The Specialist Support Service consists of some barristers chambers, solicitors firms and non government organisations offering specialist legal advice, providing free telephone advice, on-going case mentoring, casework referrals and training courses in complex, unusual or developing areas of law, mostly to those holding LSC contracts. The LSC's aim in starting the service was to put in place a second tier of advice to improve the quality and delivery of publicly funded legal and advice services. This is achieved through increasing the knowledge and capability of caseworkers and conseqently a reduction in the number of ineligible cases being pursued.
Commenting on the new contracts, David Watkinson, Barrister at Two Garden Court Chambers, said: "We were very pleased to receive a three year contract for all three areas. This service fits naturally into our overall ethos to provide legal services to those disadvantaged by poverty or discrimination - the support we give to legal advisers does this by directly benefiting their clients."
Before awarding the extended contracts, the LSC undertook an extensive evaluation of the service and pilot providers. The results confirmed that users value the expert service reporting that it enabled them to progress matters more quickly, with more confidence and to take on more complex cases. Users felt they had improved their knowledge of the law and it had helped them develop new specialist advice services. The providers were found to be of high quality, and their approach to be responsive, friendly and helpful.
According to David Watkinson, it isn't just the system users who find it useful: "Members of Chambers enjoy manning the phones and desk as it gives them the opportunity to advise on a wide variety of problems and work with legal advisers across the country, some of which they might not normally deal with such as citizens advice bureaux, law centres and even local authority housing advice centres."