“The basis of the action is that solictors will not be appearing in the Crown Court…”

Earlier this week the BBC reported

On Wednesday, defence solicitors signalled they will not be there to represent clients facing charges up to murder when they pass to the crown court.

With barristers depending on these lawyers for their instructions, it means any legal representation is highly unlikely unless a solution is reached.

And quoted a statement from the Bar Council

In a statement, the Bar Council said: “The Bar acknowledges the well founded concerns of solicitors that these rules will give rise to a two-tier system of justice.

“The introduction of today’s rules will have a marked effect on the quality of representation provided to the public in the most serious trials in the crown court.”

At issue are new fees for legally aided work in the Crown Court.

Under rules set out last month by Justice Minister David Ford, enhanced rates paid out in ‘Very High Cost Cases’ are to end. [added link]

Fees to solicitors in standard cases are to be reduced by 25% under changes in the Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings Rules.

Barristers rates will also drop by 20% as part of the changes.

In a separate BBC report yesterday the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, Alliance Party leader David Ford, defended the new fees

The justice minister said he hoped the legal profession would accept the changes.

“When you ask as to whether people will withdraw, I certainly hope that lawyers will not withdraw, and as I understand it, on Wednesday, there was one case in which the solicitor withdrew.

“There were several cases which went on in other parts of NI, in which the solicitor stayed on record, to use the jargon, and Crown Court legal aid has been granted, so I think there is no indication that there is a widespread withdrawal from this type of work at this stage.”

Yesterday, in Londonderry Crown Court, a defendant appeared without representation after his lawyer stopped working on the case.

Pearse MacDermott from the Solicitor’s Criminal Bar Association said the case was one of a number of actions taking place.

“Solicitors feel that they cannot properly represent their clients on the fees being offered to them by the Justice Minister and by the court service in relation to the new crown court scheme,” he said.

“The basis of the action is that solictors will not be appearing in the Crown Court across the North in any jurisdiction.

“We believe that clients should have representation but because of the way the Minister has dealt with this we have to withdraw our services.”

Adds  Some additional quotes from a Belfast Telegraph report

President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Brian Speers, said solicitors were urged by the organisation last month not to undertake work if the “proposed level of remuneration is insufficient to enable him or her to conduct the work to the proper standard”.

A spokesperson for the Bar Council last night said the cuts will cause “irreparable damage to the criminal justice system”.

The spokesperson added: “The Bar warned against the implications of making cuts beyond the allocated budget for criminal legal aid, as had been agreed between Gordon Brown and the Northern Ireland Executive at Hillsborough.

“The Bar acknowledges the well founded concerns of solicitors that these rules will give rise to a two tier system of justice.

“The introduction of today’s rules will have a marked effect on the quality of representation provided to the public in the most serious trials in the Crown Court.”

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  • Firstly, I will declare an interest here. My natural tendancy, as a former practising solicitor, is to be supportive of the action by my former colleagues. On the other hand, I find the idea of withdrawing labour abhorrent. It would have to be the final of all last resorts to be justified, in my mind.

    I do not know exactly what the figures are though, so will sit on the fence (for the moment).

    The background to this is that legal aid rates across the board have failed to keep up with inflation for more than a generation. It ought also to be noted that with Northern Ireland’s economy so heavily dependant on the State, solicitors in Northern Ireland are more heavily dependant on legal aid, as a source of income, than in most other parts of the UK.

    We were told, leading up to the transfer of Policing and Justice, that Peter Robinson had negotiated extra funds to cover increasing demand for legal aid as part of that package. Hmmm.

    As I have said, I dont want to pass final judgment on this for now. What really sticks out here is the massive size of the cut. If the cut was fair, it would be a statement that solicitors were overpaid before it was made. I find that very hard to accept, given the amount of cutting back that the Government had already carried out over previous years.

    It is understandable that the Government would want to be seen to be controlling public finances. These are obviously tough times. However, it looks to me as if solicitors are being treated as a politically soft target. Public sympathy would be nothing as compared with doctors where a strike in that profession could put pubic health at risk. Why would the public be so sympathetic when it comes to dealing with the criminals?

    The trouble is, criminal justice is vital to all of us. We need it for public protection. If offenders are not represented, then courts will be forced to dismiss charges on the ground of Article 6(1) ECHR (the right to a fair trial).

    Failing to pay solicitors a satisfactory rate might turn out to be a false economy. The Executive might find that out very quickly.

    In the Irish Republic, the Legal Profession similarly withdrew their services some 10 years ago. The Irish Government was forced into an embarassing “u” turn. If I was to put money on it now, I think something similar will happen here.

  • Cynic2

    They are still paid three times as much as solicitors in England and Wales for the same work. They have been feather bedded for far too long. The whole criminal justice system here is a boys club (and I mean boys – the girls are usually relegated to Chick Law).

    Ford is too timid. He should have halved the pay.

    If they don’t want to do it at those rates then fine. Deregulate the profession, remove the Law Society’s stifling and unfair control of entry and see the prices tumble as young people start up their own practices and undercut the lazy and inefficient and the Bar has to move away from its cosy network of relationships with various law firms

    Now who would object to that?

    Lawyers should learn that when a market is dominated by one huge customer they tend to set the rates – not them

  • Old Mortality

    Seymour
    “It ought also to be noted that with Northern Ireland’s economy so heavily dependant on the State, solicitors in Northern Ireland are more heavily dependant on legal aid, as a source of income, than in most other parts of the UK.”

    That simply does not follow unless you believe that earnings in the private sector are higher which is emphatically not so in Northern Ireland. In any case, the criminal classes anywhere do not usually pay for their legal representation, at least not formally.

    Ford also asserts that solicitors in NI receive more for legal aid work than in England and Wales. If he’s telling the truth then legal aid payments are still excessive.

    Cynic is absolutely right. This is one area where the government should be ruthlessly exploiting its monopsony.

  • Cynic2

    By the way…this isn’t just an issue of criminal law and the poor darling ‘Human Rights Lawyers’ TM.

    The NI legal system is sclerotic on civil cases too and that damages business confidence. Cases get stuck in the High Court for years and the only thing that makes progress is the lawyers clock. How wants to bring a business here and face that?

  • “They are still paid three times as much as solicitors in England and Wales for the same work”

    Like I have said, I have not seen the actual figures but you presumably have. Would you like to say what they are?

    Perhaps, Cynic2, you will tell us what the English solicitors get so that we can benefit from your comparison.

  • Whilst we wait for somebody to provide figures relating to this area of legal practice, here are some regional salary comparisons from a website publishing figures for 2 years ago. Northern Ireland is the 2nd lowest region.

    http://www.mysalary.co.uk/average-salary/Solicitor_2888

    Salary Region
    £33,368 North West
    £32,670 Yorkshire and North East
    £35,728 South East
    £36,573 Midlands
    £48,456 London
    £29,657 Wales
    £36,797 East of England
    £30,059 Northern Ireland
    £40,702 Scotland
    £39,091 South West

    Does anybody seriously believe that NI solicitors are overpaid?

  • otto

    Seymour, are you sure those aren’t averages for web advertised positions for juniors or the newly qualified? These on-line comparators produce some very odd numbers. Do partner salaries feature in your averages? I can’t get a private solicitor to do commercial conveyancing for less than £140 an hour and probate rates are just disgusting.

  • Cynic2

    I used figures quote by the Minister on BBC yesterday. These did some case comparisons but the figures aren’t on the DOJNII Website.

    However, what is on the website is that in the last 10 years the legal aid bill rose by 260% while case number stayed static.

  • Zig70

    What do you call a solictor at the bottom of the sea? A good start. Let them eat cake. Solictors have had it tough over the housing collapse but will you see anyone weep? especially when we had the list of high earners from legal aid published. Solicitors like doctors get paid far too much from my taxes. As a time and motion man I was appalled by my experience in courts while on jury service. Pay by the case, on a scale if necessary but not by hour and not unchecked. The one thing solictors do that winds the public up are fees for dumb letters, 4 letters when 1 would do, bloody crooks. I’m with Ford.

  • Otto,

    It is not the figure for a newly qualified person. That person would get less. It is the average salary on the open market. It would obviously not be as much as a typical partner.

    I was responding to a suggestion that the Northern Ireland solicitors get paid three times as much as solicitors in England and Wales (presumably for Crown Court work). What I can say is fact is that NI solicitors have always averaged considerably less than their England and Wales counterparts and when comparisons are made between partners’ earnings, Northern Ireland solicitors are much more poorly paid than their English counterparts.

    “Solicitors like doctors get paid too much from my taxes”

    Perhaps they do but if you are going to make a comment like that, why dont you back it up with some figures? What do you think they are getting paid at the moment and why do you think it is too much?

    Lets have some maths instead of sweeping statements

    “Pay by the case, on a scale if necessary but not by hour and not unchecked.”

    This comment is entirely misconceived. There are already fixed rates for guilty pleas. As for contested cases, every contested case is different in size and complexity. As for checking, the figures for all publicly funded litigation are checked either through the taxation procedure in the courts or by assessment from the Northern Ireland legal services commission.

  • Kevin Barry

    Seymour,

    I’m with you on this, however, I too have to declare an interest that I am a lawyer (NY qualified).

    There are some solicitors back home who make it big, yes, but the vast majority don’t and struggle for many a year on next to nothing.

    Otto quotes conveyancing rates of at least £140 which sounds steep, but that doesn’t go straight into a solicitor’s pocket. Rates, staff, electricity, rent/mortgage, national insurance, taxes, general stationery, telephone bills, professional indemnity insurance etc need to be paid for out of all of this.

    It’s easy to pick on the legal profession, I imagine I will get slated for dare saying that £140 ph is buttons (it is btw) but expecting well qualified people to work for peanuts, and legal aid is peanuts, is bonkers. If Ford wants to slash what’s paid, go ahead, but the only people who will really suffer is the general public as more and more law graduates, especially the better qualified ones, will move down south or to England and get better paid.

    Regarding Cynic2’s suggestion of deregulation, I would have to agree, the legal profession back home is a shambles starting from the exams for the institute on which is rife with nepotism and saddles young adults with stupid levels of debt, but that’s for another thread I suppose.

  • thethoughtfulone

    “………Rates, staff, electricity, rent/mortgage, national insurance, taxes, general stationery, telephone bills, professional indemnity insurance etc need to be paid for out of all of this. ”

    I’m a self-employed mechanic, I have all these out-goings and charge £20/hr + VAT. My work is probably more varied and challenging than most and if I make a mistake or miss something, somebody could die as a result.

    Needless to say I think their whinging and complaining is absolutely pathetic, but nor does it surprise me.

  • Kevin,

    Thanks for your comment. The fees paid to solicitors are an emotive subject for them. Privately, they persistently complain that what they get does not remunerate them properly considering the skills, risks and responsibilities involved. I know that most of them put on a brave face and try and look confident but there are many who are suffering. Some proprietors are actually earning less than the salaried solicitors they employ. Talk to accountants and they will tell you a similar story.

    Some of this is partly their own fault. There are too many one or even two man practices dotted all over Northern Ireland. Solicitors in small practices need to think about merging to share more of the establishment costs.

    I completely agree with you about the hourly charging rate. £140 per hour will barely cover overheads in a typical office and leave only a very small amount of profit.

    You are right to say that it is easy to pick on the legal profession. Unfortunately, for solicitors, their public image is very poor. The result is that the public believe they are all rich, like their cousins in America In a sense, they have themselves to blame for that. I have noticed very little effort over the years by the profession’s leaders to improve the image.

    Conveyancing

    This subject, though related, is off topic in the sense that it is nothing to do with Mr. Ford’s job but it is linked in the minds of so many that I feel I ought to say something here.

    Many solicitors are working on lower (actually suicidally lower) rates for conveyancing generally. Conveyancing has a lot of problems attached to it. It is high risk work and for that reason, it ought to command much higher fees. What happens in practice is that solicitors, desperate for the work, undercut each other. Many end up not giving enough attention to their work and cut corners. The result is higher insurance premiums. This is completely unfair on the firms do a very good job on conveyancing without attracting negligence claims. The insurance system in Northern Ireland does not, as it does in England, alter the premiums for higher risk work.

    My solution for conveyancing in Northern Ireland would take it further that it has developed in England. It would require change in the insurance industry and therefore would need a lot of cross-discipline expertise to make it word. Firstly, insurance on conveyancing should be separated from the rest of legal practice. The insurance premiums on each conveyancing job would then be paid out as a disbursement so that it is not reflected in the solicitor’s bill but the insurance companies should also be allowed to load the insurance premium on law practices which have a poor record of negligence so that they are priced out of the conveyancing market.

    Conveyancing procedure in Northern Ireland needs reform as well but that is a matter for the Law Society. If they adopt the English procedure of exchange of contracts, instead of all parties signing a single document, they will find that they will be able to speed up transactions, reduce the risks when there is a chain and be in a position to operate e-conveyancing when it comes to Northern Ireland.

    Legal aid money can be saved in other ways

    There are a lot of things which need reform here and I had hoped that the new Justice Minister would make a good start in that direction. For example, the divorce procedure here is still as it was pre 1977 in England. In Northern Ireland, the Petitioner still has to give oral evidence in an uncontested divorce. By changing the rules to a special procedure system, as in England, Mr. Ford would be able to considerably slash the cost of legal aid in that area.

    I have many more ideas for reform in the justice system. If Mr. Ford wants to give me a call, I would be very happy to help.

  • thethoughtfulone

    I have all these out-goings…

    No you dont. Its absolutely fatuous to suggest that you can finance overheads of upwards of £75,000 (on the smallest of practices) on £20 per hour.

  • Old Mortality

    Seymour
    “Solicitors like doctors get paid too much from my taxes”

    Perhaps they do but if you are going to make a comment like that, why dont you back it up with some figures? What do you think they are getting paid at the moment and why do you think it is too much?

    The original comment wasn’t mine but there is no need for figures to substantiate it, just the principled argument that it is immoral for the state to use money extracted from taxpayers to remunerate more generously than is necessary to secure suitably qualified employees. You only have to look at the stampede to join the police to see one particularly hideous example of excessive pay.

    By the way, I was under the impression that you were a Conservative. Clearly, I was mistaken.

  • Old Mortality,

    The key words in your comment are these

    <em"it is immoral for the state to use money extracted from taxpayers to remunerate more generously than is necessary to secure suitably qualified employees"

    I dont disagree with that at all. However, there is not a single comment on this thread which amounts to a substantive credible argument that Mr. Ford’s proposals meet that criteria. All that has been written so far is based on prejudice and preconception.

    Securing suitably qualified people is key.

  • thethoughtfulone

    “No you dont.”

    Oh yes I do, the exact amounts of them may not be the same as a legal practice (nor did I claim such) but I still have to pay them and they must be covered by my hourly rate as per your statement trying to play down the impact of a figure like £140/hr!

    As for facts, how about producing some of your own to indicate that the new rates DO NOT adequately compensate the legal profession for their endeavours. I would suggest that without doing such your views are no different to the rest of us who’s views you are trying to belittle.

  • “Oh yes I do”

    Oh no you dont. When it comes to solicitors’ overheads, you actually dont know what you are talking about.

  • otto

    Run us through them then Seymour. From what I can see a Solicitor needs a PC, a printer, a phone, a subsciption to Lexis Nexus (if he can be bothered to stay up to date), insurance, heat and light and someone to screen calls. Property in NI is insanely abundant so let’s say space costs £10-£15 a square foot – a number of solicitors in Bangor work from the Balloo estate but there are plenty of buildings at similar rates near the centre of town. I get the equipment costs at a garage or a dentist’s. What are yours?

    And since when is a two year post-grad degree studying subjects that land registry clerks or company registration agents seem to know better a high level of qualification? Every time you do get a sticky question you charge extra for counsel’s opinion.

  • otto

    Run us through them then Seymour. From what I can see a Solicitor needs a PC, a printer, a phone, a subsciption to Lexis Nexus (if he can be bothered to stay up to date), insurance, heat and light and someone to screen calls. Property in NI is insanely abundant so let’s say space costs £10-£15 a square foot – a number of solicitors in Bangor work from the Balloo estate but there are plenty of buildings at similar rates near the centre of town. I get the equipment costs at a garage or a dentist’s. What are yours?

    And since when is a two year post-grad degree studying subjects that land registry clerks or company registration agents seem to know better a high level of qualification? Every time you do get a sticky question you charge extra for counsel’s opinion.

    Quite agree on the need for independent Solicitors to combine offices. Dentists and Vets do it. If you are going to charge high fees you could at least have the decency to live well. Pissing it away on landlord’s rents and the vanity of trading under your own name is worse.

  • otto

    Sorry for the repetition Shouldn’t be doing this on the phone.

  • DC

    I think there are two issues at play here – the first involves those solicitors withdrawing because of the ‘new fees making it impossible to prepare for court’ etc.

    The second which is separate to this involves reform of legal services in general in NI because the NI legal system is the most expensive and most uncompetitive of all legal systems in comparison to other regions of the UK.

    Going back to the first issue on the new fees, just goes to show that good government and that of bringing in change does indeed require command and control, plus enforcement.

    If I were David Ford, I would have brought in new fees and any solicitor that refused to operate under them would then be struck off for 6-12 months due to failure of duty to perform a service on behalf of the good people of NI.

    Another issue about fees which has been highlighted is that they have grown while the number of cases taken up has remained static, all of this in a culture where prisons don’t reform or rehabilitate offenders and repeat offending is the norm. Therefore it is money wasted.

    Average solicitor’s salary 30k pa that equates to 3 or 4 treatments of new athritis drugs on the NHS; I know where my money would be placed if I had a choice of giving over money for legal aid directly going to solicitors, or arthritis drugs.

    In terms of reform to legal services, the last review said Northern Ireland had more similarities to Scotland, and guess what – Scotland has now moved over to ‘Tesco’ law arrangements. So I gather it shouldn’t be too long till Northern Ireland moves over to Scotland’s new arrangements, given both were cited as similar in the last review?

    As for the bar library, it deserves to be dismantled as an elite system, more so than Northern Ireland’s grammar schools, by far.

  • Otto,

    Firstly, let me make it clear that I no longer practice as a solicitor. I thought I made that clear in my first comment. I also want to make it clear, as I said in my first comment, that I have not reached a clear view on Mr. Ford’s proposal as I have not seen any figures. I am totally behind anybody who says that the public must get value for money and I have already highlighted my criticism of very small practices that do not club together to share overheads. Why they should not desire to do that is beyond me. Apart from anything else, the stress and pressure on a solicitor in a small practice is immense.

    A lot of my commenting has been directed towards explaining the background, not the substance of this topic. At the beginning of last week, there was a meeting involving some 450 solicitors to discuss their proposed action. Hopefully, somebody from that group will later come onto this thread to explain their position.

    I am not completely up to date on overheads but I can give you a reasonably accurate view of the unusual overheads. Later in this comment, I give an idea of how the hourly charging rate is arrived at for the purpose of taxation of solicitors costs.

    Professional Indemnity Insurance. – This varies according to the number of Practitioners and whether or not those practitioners are principals (i.e. self employed) or salaried. I understand that claims are shooting up. At a guess, I believe the current cost is an average of about £8,000 per solicitor. I believe it will be much higher next year because the bulge in claims, generated by the recession, kick in.

    Staff. – In my view, the smallest number of administrative staff that a one-man practice could get away with in a fully functioning office and in order to be productive is two. This would include the responsibilities of Legal Secretary, Telephonist and book-keeper. Legal Secretaries are a heck of a lot more than just audio typists and their job does involve a lot of skill and responsibility in its own right. In a multi-man practice, the book-keeping would be greater but would be shared and this overall cost would come down but each solicitor would need their own PA. A medium tier legal secretary in NI would earn about £18,000 (that is lower than an average BT call centre worker, by the way). Going back to the two staff plan for the smallest unit – these staff would cost, including Employers NI contributions (12%) some £35,000.

    Practising certificate fees – I understand this is now about £2,000 per solicitor, including the requirement to contribute to the compensation fund.

    Accountants – It needs to be appreciated that accountancy work for a solicitor is considerably greater than a typical trading business. They have to produce reports to the Law society and they themselves have strict procedures for carrying out this work. It is very involved. – A one man practice would probably have to pay about £4-5,000 for this work. Once again, this cost goes down, per head, in a multi-man practice.

    Training – each year, solicitors have to spend money on courses to comply with CPD. This would probably work out to about £1,000 per practitioner.

    Law books and subscriptions – As well as CPD it is necessary to maintain the knowledge resource of the practice. The internet has reduced some of this cost over recent years but it is still substantial. – about £1,000 a year. Once again, a multi-man practice can share these resources.

    Agency – This job includes paying for costs draftsmen to tax their bills in the High Court. This expense would be typically £2,000 a year for that small practice. Larger firms might have in-house costs drawers.

    All other overheads – these will be similar to other businesses based in an office.

    The hourly charging rate

    Each year, the taxing master publishes the rate allowed by legal aid. According to precedent, this is calculated on the basis of a reasonably priced practice in Northern Ireland. A few weeks ago, the hourly charging rate was announced by the taxing office at £100 per hour. I want to add that this figure is only applicable to High Court work. Legal aid work in the lower courts does not approach anything near the hourly rate in the High court. That is another source of grievance that solicitors have.

    As I say, the hourly charging rate is an average figure across Northern Ireland but precedent states that this is arrived at in the following way [source: Legal costs in Northern Ireland (1993)]:

    Step 1 – Take the profit and loss accounts of the practice and make the following adjustments:

    (a) Find the total amount of expenses. Deduct all fee-earners salaries, appropriate national insurance, pension scheme and employer’s contributions, etc.
    (b) Where no rent is paid for the office premises add the current market rack rent
    (c) Make an allowance for interest on working capital
    (d) Deduct the amount of interest earned and not passed on to clients
    (e) Where travelling expenses by car are charged out to clients at civil service rates (which are intended not only to cover the cost of petrol and oil but also depreciation, repairs, road tax, insurance, etc), deduct two thirds of the overheads applicable to the car or cars used in the practice. The reason for this is to avoid charging twice; once in calculating the hourly rate and again by charging as a separate disbursement.

    Step 2 – Having made the above adjustments, the resultant figure represents the overheads to be apportioned amongst the fee earners. The apportioned share of the overheads is then added to the fee-earner’s salary to give his share of the total expenses of the practice. The figure thus arrived at is divided (as suggested above) by 1100 being the number of directly chargeable hours per annum.

    <Step 3 – Calculate the expense rates

    The preferred method of calculating the expense rates of fee earners in order to determine a figure which represents each fee-earner’s apportioned share of overheads is to make calculations based on the totals for the individuals within the four groups of fee-earners above and divide the result by the number in the group. The necessary calculations are:

    (a) Ascertain the salary costs in respect of each fee earner, salary costs include those overheads which can be specifically identified as relating to each fee earner. For the purpose of working out the notional salary of a principal or partner, this should be what it would cost to employ a suitably qualified person to carry out work of what a principal or partner would do and not be a reflection of expected (even if reasonable) profit.
    (b) Deduct the figure ascertained at para (a) from the total allowable overhead expenses
    (c) Determine the total salary costs of all the fee earners
    (d) Determine the proportion which the fee-earner’s salary costs bear to the total salary costs. Express this sum as a percentage. The resultant percentage figure shows the fee-earner’s share of overheads (excluding profit)

    The following simplified example illustrates the foregoing calculations in respect of a fee-earner paid £40,000 per year. These figures are for illustration only and not intended to describe the norm.

    Salary costs of fee earner £40,000
    Total overheads £500,000
    Total salary of fee earners £300,000
    Net overheads apportionable £200,000
    Fee – earner’s share of overheads (13.333%) £26,666
    Fee earner’s hourly rate (£26,666 + £40,000 / 1100) = £60.60

  • Kevin Barry

    Seymour,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. Our profession does have a bad reputation, undoubtedly, but knee jerk reactions as are evident above without any consideration for reality won’t help anyone here, least of all ‘the good people of NI’.

    I definitely think a thread on legal reform in NI would be a good idea, and also interesting to see some normally sane voices railing against the legal profession.

    thethoughtfulone

    ‘I’m a self-employed mechanic, I have all these out-goings and charge £20/hr + VAT’

    With all due respect, but what are you trying to get at? Your business is nothing like a solicitor’s practice so please desist with this comparison.

    And, so as to not to offend, but the time and money spent by solicitors in their training and development would possibly be considerably more than that for a mechanic.

    ‘if I make a mistake or miss something, somebody could die as a result.’

    True, but more often than not if someone in your line of work makes a mistake and I come back they may say that something else has gone wrong and charge me some more for it as what’s gone wrong is not related to the previous problem, of course.

    Also, if we get something wrong someone gets incarcerated or lose a lot of money. Our reputation is in tatters and we don’t get any more business.

    DC

    ‘If I were David Ford, I would have brought in new fees and any solicitor that refused to operate under them would then be struck off for 6-12 months due to failure of duty to perform a service on behalf of the good people of NI.’

    Though not applicable here, I believe this is what the 13th amendment may consider to be ‘involuntary servitude’. I would not have the right to refuse providing my labour unless I accept it at a price that means I am making a loss?

    What if my practice deals solely in conveyancing or commercial law, do I have to take on legal aid work also?

  • JAH

    When Doctors have gone on strike, the death rate has gone down! (loads of web references). And we need them.

    So when Solicitors strike, do they honestly think for one moment anyone will shed a tear? This excerpt from Kevin Barry is utterly priceless in its arrogance and total lack of self awareness:

    thethoughtfulone

    ‘I’m a self-employed mechanic, I have all these out-goings and charge £20/hr + VAT’

    With all due respect, but what are you trying to get at? Your business is nothing like a solicitor’s practice so please desist with this comparison.

    And, so as to not to offend, but the time and money spent by solicitors in their training and development would possibly be considerably more than that for a mechanic.

    So there you have it. How dare a pleb point out the reality that being a Solicitor is just another business! It is Kevin. Well paid and about to discover that the cutbacks are about to hit it as well.

  • DC

    at a price that means I am making a loss?

    Relative to what, a big house, bigger mortgage, office costs too large etc?

    That’s why Tesco law is coming into effect in Scotland so centralisation of legal services by bigger companies means these services become affordable.

    No one complained whenever Fordism (excuse the pun) kicked in – in America – which meant mass production of cars made them more affordable to the many, same should apply to legal services then. Except those against Tesco law expect the state to pay them – little groups of family solicitors – in excess of what the market does for other skills and services.

    Oh and finally, I wish someone in Europe would finally stand up and call time on the stupid notion that lawyers operate to and in a free market: they really don’t, not in the strictest sense. And I mention the EU because it struck down Italy – a country which tried to impose minimum and maximum legal fees – the EU said it went against the free market concept.

    The interplay between the State and legal services is as a result of *compulsion* – selective enforcement by police of particular laws and ad hoc detection of crime means that defendants are most certainly not before the courts as a result of ‘free market’ type forces.

    I think people in the legal profession see themselves operating just like your ordinary plumbers.

    First of all, if my water pipe were to burst, I could opt to turn off the mains supply and fix it whenever I had the money, if I couldn’t afford to do so now – in the meantime I could ask my neighbour if I could shower there and top my kettle up using his or her water.

    Now, if burst water pipes were operated like the law is and its legal services, I would prob have 21 days to fix my burst pipe – it must be fixed or I would probably face a fine or imprisonment – the choice of a limited number of plumbers who specialise in burst pipes would be given to me – the plumbers would in turn offer me the choice of three types of pipes which fit a certain legal standard and of a specific metal type for such a replacement purpose. Etc etc.

    See the difference – solicitors and lawyers free market? My arse!

  • DC

    So basically, the legal profession isn’t a free market, but while it operates in a captialist system it must find ways to become more efficient.

    If solicitors and lawyers don’t want to take a hit on their lifestyles and houses etc ‘Tesco law’ is a way to help provide cheaper legal services through competition, because it tries to provide more for less through centralisation of sorts – sharing back office supplies and reducing other such overheads as mentioned above through economies of scale.

    But all of this must be seen in the context that reoffending rates are high, prison doesn’t work and court processing costs – i.e. lawyers and barristers – is to high relative to the benefits that such fees should produce, but don’t.

    30k could pay for cancer treatment and chemo and heal the person of his or her illness, 30k could cover court costs and the person reoffends anyway!

  • Kevin Barry

    JAH

    Thanks for your reply

    ‘So there you have it. How dare a pleb point out the reality that being a Solicitor is just another business! It is Kevin. Well paid and about to discover that the cutbacks are about to hit it as well.’

    Pleb? Your word, not mine. And as I pointed out and Seymour has above, it’s a business that has incredibly different costs involved, something you seemingly haven’t decided to address.

    DC,

    Not that you should, but please read my points above, last time I checked, and I shall quote again for your attention

    ‘Regarding Cynic2′s suggestion of deregulation, I would have to agree, the legal profession back home is a shambles starting from the exams for the institute on which is rife with nepotism and saddles young adults with stupid levels of debt, but that’s for another thread I suppose.’

    Go for it, deregulate the lot. You already have far too many solicitors in NI but swamp the market with more solicitors, I think that work at the bottom end of the market will be more within the reach pricewise for the good people of NI.

    But don’t kid yourself that something like criminal law will get more value for money with this race for the bottom. Tax payers should get value for money, but it’s a false economy to think that by paying less you’re going to get better. Those who are better qualified and simply better than others will withhold the provision of their labour.

    I also note how you did not answer my point, if I am a solicitor back home, should I be compelled to take up legal aid work at whatever price Ford decides? Do I not have the right to withhold my labour and the right to refuse to take up this work?

    ‘Relative to what, a big house, bigger mortgage, office costs too large etc?’

    The fact that their office would be working at a loss and would be unable to meet it’s expenses. Again, most don’t live in a big house and are up to their eyes in debt after university and the institute fees.

    Sure, why don’t all solicitors move their offices to industrial estates outside of each town to save money? Answer: they get most of their business from people walking in while in town.

  • Kevin Barry

    DC

    ’30k could pay for cancer treatment and chemo and heal the person of his or her illness, 30k could cover court costs and the person reoffends anyway!’

    I do laugh at people who wheel out the old ‘let’s bring up some health care cost stats as a way to get spending cut on something else’. Is this like some kind of budgetary version of Goodwin’s Theory?

    This kind of thinking would eventually lead to all of a country’s budget being spent on healthcare alone, but you would complain about the doctors and nurses being paid the £10k pa they would be on if you had your way as that money should be spent on some new wonder drug.

  • otto

    Thanks for the fulsome analysis Seymour. It looks to me like your (I appreciate you’re retired but I mean your profession) biggest problem is the negotiation, reduction or sharing of overhead – but that includes idle or inefficiently used time. 1100 billable hours = 24 a week allowing for 35 days hols which doesn’t seem all that many, although there must be a fair amount of unbilled business development, management and training time I suppose.

    I know at least one pharmacy owner who’s building a health centre in inner Belfast which will house one of his outlets. Maybe you could have your own captive estate agencies.

    For what its worth I use commercial solicitors pretty much on an ongoing basis. I moved all my work from a traditional smaller practice to one of our posher looking regional champs a couple of years ago. The rates are a bit higher but the work is faster, leases are written in English and when I ask a dumb question I get a pronto response by e-mail.

    I appreciate that independence is a virtue – especially dealing with personal family matters but surely there’s an opportunity for some enterprising type to build mini-law libraries for solicitors – health centre style clinics where you can share resources (like your own employed accountants, document production, reception, legal secretarial, mediation, CAB triage(?), counselling facilities) but still have your own private practice. Facilities like on-line document storage for clients would be really cool.

    Independents should really start your own buying and marketing groups before you lose your goodwill to some big firm with an advertising budget or end up paying franchise fees to the first legal services billionaire.

  • DC

    Perhaps the best way is to look at this from the point that solicitors are neither free-market operators (yet receive the EU’s backing as such) nor under direct state control (yet enjoy a hell of a lot of state regulation in their favour) – and as a result a lot of inefficiencies and protectionist bubbles emerge out of the cracks.

    Kevin, as I said, all of this must be seen in the context that reoffending rates are high, prison doesn’t work well and court processing costs – those charged by lawyers and barristers – are too high relative to the benefits that such fees should produce.

  • otto

    “Sure, why don’t all solicitors move their offices to industrial estates outside of each town to save money? Answer: they get most of their business from people walking in while in town.”

    Kevin – you should compare what used to be North Down’s light industrial zone at Balloo with the emptying town centre. Our laissez faire (or worse) town management has forced an increasing amount of retail and small offices out of the town and into the estate.

  • Kevin Barry

    DC,

    Prison doesn’t work, agreed. Though this is going off on something of a tangent on to offending, this is not the fault of the legal profession but the prison and rehabilitation system so to say the problem is that we pay ‘x’ amount to solicitors and barristers and yet we get this amount of re-offending is non-starter.

    Focus on the rehabilitation of offenders or putting in place measures that help prevent people from offending would be welcome, whether it is money being given to youth centres so teens have something to do or pre and post natal care for single mothers in working class areas so they get more assistance with parenting skills for instance (not saying or implying that working class single mothers don’t know how to raise a child, I am 1 of 3 raised by a working class single mum, but it’s a massive task to raise someone well with very little support), all of these things are money well spent that don’t have to go to the legal profession.

    I am honest when I say, when something gets to court it’s a failure for all parties concerned as this matter should have been resolved before hand. I would prefer tax payers money being spent more sparingly on legal costs but if you want better results regarding re-offending work on rehabilitation.

    Reducing the funds for legal aid will have no effect on re-offending rates and may lead to the provision of worse legal advice.

  • Kevin Barry

    Good point well made Otto, which is a shame to say the least.

  • “Prison does not work….”

    It does not work the way we all want it to work. It has a place in the criminal justice system. The best criminal justice system is one which willl strike the right balance between limiting crime, punishing the offender and reforming the offender. That, however, is the problem at the sentence end of the system. Let me focus on the immediate problem here, which is that defendants may not actually reach that point.

    It is all very well pointing out that so many criminals re-offend but what about the crime, which will never appear in statistics, that is prevented as a result of having a penal system? Until the system breaks down altogether you will never be able to measure the benefit of it.

    The danger of trials not going ahead is that cases are struck out on the basis of abuse of process and the defendant not having the right to a fair trial in a reasonable time. There would be consequences for society in the failure of the criminal justice system to deliver. The trouble is that the consequence would be creeping and the cost unnoticable until much further down the line when the rate of offending shoots up.

    People are then required to pay more for insurance for their house and their car, the cost of extra security and the extra strain on the public purse because of the need for more policing and extra amounts in tax in order to pay for criminal injuries compensation.

    Right now, I am sure that this current controversy will do Mr. Ford’s political reputation no harm. However, the pressure will build. If the Lawyers are determined to continue with their action, there could be serious consequences. Who will blink first? Mr. Ford or the solicitors?

  • otto

    Is there a “public defender department” nuclear option for the Justice Minister?

  • thethoughtfulone

    “With all due respect, but what are you trying to get at? Your business is nothing like a solicitor’s practice so please desist with this comparison.

    And, so as to not to offend, but the time and money spent by solicitors in their training and development would possibly be considerably more than that for a mechanic.”

    And again, with all due respect, what would you know about running a modern workshop?

    But anyway, I think we eventually got to the core issue, that being basically, how dare someone of my standing question a man of law. Well, it happens that I am a manual worker through choice, not because I’m too thick to do anything else. I’m grammar school educated, went through my years at school with a few who are now practising law at various levels and they were nothing remarkable academically so it can’t be that difficult for anyone reasonably intelligent. My training however as you would expect comprised making tea, wiping my hands continually with an oily cloth and of-course, learning to suck air through my teeth in a certain way that only people like myself can do!

    What you have conveyed remarkably well however is the sort of arrogance and pompous superiority endemic in the legal profession. Actually I prefer it when people fail to conform to the stereotypical image in my small brain and force me to change my deep seated opinions but mostly, as in this case, they fail.

  • Otto,

    Firsly, you have made some excellent points about the possible future development of legal services.

    Just in relation to the 1100 billable hours per year, you are right about the time spent on the non-chargeable work. Once again, that time is more efficient in a multi-man practice where you find office managers appointed to deal purely with admininstration.

    The 1100 hours was not a figure arrived at out of thin air. It is the result of years of accumulated knowledge and experience about how a professional practice is run. That division between billable and non-billable work is a similar rule of thumb in the accountancy profession.

  • Is there a “public defender department” nuclear option for the Justice Minister?

    There is no reason why one cant be set up but unless you give it the monopoly of publicly funded defence work, it is unlikely to result in defendants wanting to avail of the service.

    The problem of giving it a monopoly is that you could fall foul of human rights if there just does not happen to be enough lawyers available. Another danger of public monopoly is you get overworked lawyers, leading to a scenario where they are under pressure to advise a suspect to plead guilty.

  • Kevin Barry

    thethoughtfulone

    While I would prefer to stay on topic, I’ll answer your points raised.

    ‘And again, with all due respect, what would you know about running a modern workshop?’

    Well, it would seem that you can do it for approx. £20 per hour while for a solicitor’s office it is considerably more as highlighted above by Seymour.

    ‘I think we eventually got to the core issue, that being basically, how dare someone of my standing question a man of law’

    Why do you think so lowly of yourself? You are more than entitled to question someone, even myself, but when you do and it’s based on a flawed thinking please don’t take offence at someone of my so-called stature pointing it out.

    ‘Well, it happens that I am a manual worker through choice, not because I’m too thick to do anything else.’

    And? Again, if you don’t like someone like me pointing out that I think the basic premise of your argument is flawed that’s your problem, not mine.

    ‘I’m grammar school educated, went through my years at school with a few who are now practising law at various levels and they were nothing remarkable academically so it can’t be that difficult for anyone reasonably intelligent.’

    As with any profession or job their are those that are exceptional at what they do and those that are awful. You get what you pay for.

    ‘My training however as you would expect comprised making tea, wiping my hands continually with an oily cloth and of-course, learning to suck air through my teeth in a certain way that only people like myself can do!’

    Really? Wow, here was I thinking you might have went to some technical college or course on motor vehicle studies.

    ‘What you have conveyed remarkably well however is the sort of arrogance and pompous superiority endemic in the legal profession.’

    I’m arrogant for pointing out that your comparison of two completely different businesses is flawed; really? Please remove that rather large chip on your shoulder and deal with the fact that one job involves someone spending a large amount of time and money on their progress in an incredibly competitive environment while the other doesn’t.

    Just out of curiosity, what do you think a solicitor should get paid a year?

  • thethoughtfulone

    “and deal with the fact that one job involves someone spending a large amount of time and money on their progress in an incredibly competitive environment while the other doesn’t. ”

    I know and I think you guys in the legal profession need to get with the real world and start competing.

    I’m glad you’re starting to see sense at last!

  • Kevin Barry

    thethoughtfulone,

    If you want to add to the debate seeing as you’re not ‘thick’, be my guest.

    Plenty of competition in my sphere of work, more is always welcome of course.

    Let me know how getting rid of that chip on your shoulder goes

  • Kevin Barry

    Oh, and also, how about you answer some of the points raised?

    I won’t hold my breath…

  • Old Mortality

    We don’t have accountancy aid, even though many people of relatively modest means require the assistance of accountants to deal with their tax affairs.
    The essence of the problem is that lawyers of both types cannot or will not provide a service that their customers can afford. Consequently, their services have to be heavily subsidised by the state. This is a similar, if less urgent, situation to that which once prevailed in medicine. The solution to that was the NHS which effectively nationalised the medical profession. If access to justice is considered to be almost as vital as access to medical care, then nationalisation of the criminal legal professions may be the only viable solution. A Public Defence Service with the same budget as the PPS.
    Private criminal legal advice like private medicine would of course still be available if there is any market for it.

  • Old Mortality

    Seymour:
    ”Another danger of public monopoly is you get overworked lawyers, leading to a scenario where they are under pressure to advise a suspect to plead guilty.”

    ….and a danger with legal aid is that underworked lawyers with a view to maximising fees will do anything but advise a client to plead guilty.

  • Pigeon Toes

    “Just out of curiosity, what do you think a solicitor should get paid a year?”

    An industrial wage?

  • Pigeon Toes

    Kevin

    Ball, not man rule?

  • Kevin Barry

    And that is?

  • Kevin Barry

    Re industrial wage for above comment

  • Kevin Barry

    Pigeon Toes

    ‘Ball, not man rule?’

    For which of my comments?

    Also, that rule is applicable to others, right?

    Oh, and nice name btw

  • Pigeon Toes
  • Pigeon Toes

    Seymour @ 2.35 pm. Not all that different from most
    SM’E’s then?

  • Old Mortality @16 April 2011 at 9:47 pm

    My comments about the pros and cons of a public defender system were made with little thinking time but I did try to consdier it from the point of view that maintaining ethics can be compromised by an excessive workload.

    The nearest model that I can invite attention to is the one run in the Republic of Ireland where the State Solicitor monopolises all of the legal aid funding for Family law work. The service is a disaster, as anybody who has tried to use the system will tell you. There is a massive waiting list for people who need help so my fear of solicitors in such a system leaning on a client to plead guilty was a very genuine concern that I had and would still be a very serious point if a public defender system were to be introduced.

  • Seymour @ 2.35 pm. Not all that different from most
    SM’E’s then?

    Solicitors are like SMEs in one sense that the costs of running a business are not dissimilar to others, apart from the special overheads that I have highlighed.

    The difference is with income. A huge proportion of the contentious work, including all criminal defence work, is funded by legal aid. It is not determined by ordinary market forces, as with a typical business.

    How you determine the right income and what the income should be are based on more complex criteria. In the end though, the Government should not have to pay any more than they need to in order to secure the professional service.

  • Old Mortality

    Seymour
    As with any public sector undertaking, there is a great risk of reduced efficiency by removing criminal defence from the private sector. However, I cannot see any other solution that will ensure fairness for the taxpayer.
    This discussion has concentrated on solicitors but the most obscene exploitation of legal aid is to be found among barristers. The solicitor/ advocate division itself is itself an unnecessary source of duplicative expense. Unlike solicitors, barristers have virtually no alternative source of income to legal aid. They should be squeezed into extinction.

  • Old Mortality,

    There are some things wrong with the system of how solicitors work with barrister which I would like to see changed. However, abolishing barristers is not one of them.

    You mention duplication. There is not as much of it as people would like to think. Yes, solicitors can do advocacy but it is actually very difficult to run the admin side of a case and the advocacy side at the same time. In fact, anybody who tries to do that in a case which needs a lot of preparation for a trial is at a very considerable disadvantage.

    You can merge the profession, if you like but you will still need specially trained advocates. One commenter earlier suggested that it was wrong to obtain counsel’s opinion.

    Why should not a solicitor do the opinion? The reason is that solicitors do not work in the same way. Solicitors run multiple numbers of files at the same time and they need to be continuously managed. Solicitors also run the most of the communication on the case. Barristers are not saddled with the administration of the files. This frees them up to do more research. Having more research time, the specialist legal base knowledge, and instant access to a well-resourced library enables the barrister to come up with the legal solution quicker and cheaper.

    Despite what I have just said, it does not mean to say that the system under which the two professions work together does not need to be overhauled. It does and I agree that barristers fees do need to be re-considered. In some instances, solicitors tend to overuse barristers for some Types of work (they should not be using them, for example, to draft divorce petitions). Other reforms to the legal system that I would like to see would cut down on the need for so many court appearances. Investment in technology to enable video conferencing for civil hearings is one way ahead. I would like to see rule changes so that it is not necessary for advocates to appear in front of a judge every time they both agree an adjournment. Why also should not a clerk at the court deal with adjournments instead of a judge, as they do in England?

    As I said in one of my earlier comments, there are a lot of reforms which could be made and need to be made which would cut down the amount spent on legal aid but they do require system changes and not simply a revision of current fee rates..

  • DC

    Seymour

    Funny enough it seems to me that legal services and financial services are quite similar in a number of ways.

    First of all, the banks and their investment arms say it wasn’t their fault – all this reckless gambling that led to the collapse of financial markets and credit crunch once the debt mountain had collapsed in on them – they tend to say in defence it was the sytem’s fault – it allowed them to earn so much money despite all the risks i.e. building debt mountains loant to others with repayment knocked well into the future, while they – the financiers – took their money immediately upfront. The financiers agreed half-heartedly that the system needs looked at so as the bill from any future crashes will no longer be footed by the taxpayer i.e. no more socialising losses and privatising profits.

    So, when system reforms were actually being discussed in a post-crash environment by government – and with the national debt growing – banks say don’t dare tinker with the system and break us up into smaller banks or regulate more – if you do we will leave London for other shores!

    This seems to be the same with lawyers and solicitors – the system allows certain lawyers and barristers to earn too much money and it is a drag on the taxpayer – then when the government steps in directly the legal eagles leave the courtroom, saying in a sense that: ‘we’re not doing this type of legal aid work anymore, we’re out of here’.

    The worrying link between the two professions seems to be profit motive.

    Old Mortality

    I’m with you on the statutory provision of legal services for court, but the main concern is independence, whether defendants feel they could get a fair trial by a statutory lawyer representing him or her against the government whenever it is the government that pays for its representation in such a direct way. But legal aid is the same thing I suppose, perhaps something worth looking into then?

    Once again it reminds me of financial services – the banks say they are entirely free market yet play around with legal tender, which directly belongs to both the nation and the state; solicitors and lawyers try the same thing on as well, that they are free market operators despite having their work provided as a result of laws being enforced by police and other authorities – all of this is directly linked to the act of statute! This to me is millions of miles away from free-market concepts – decisions taken freely and based on personal choice of product.

    I’m beginning to think like Old Mortality in that the only way to get a fair deal for the taxpayers is to have legal services publicly owned and operated to limit the profit motive and to shrink protectionist / inflationary bubbles in some legal services.

  • Lionel Hutz

    DC,

    I do not see the link between lawyers and bankers from what you have said at all. Firstly, there has been no crash in the legal system. There has been no reckless profiteering. David Ford is at the end of the day looking for savings of just over 10%. That hardly indicates that the problems he sees are massive.

    I have been reading the comments on this thread closely and there seems to be a misunderstanding of where the argument. The argument is not really about the size of the cut (there has been an argument recently which i’ll come to).

    I am a barrister but I am not involved in criminal work but I will do my best to explain this dispute. There has been an argument over Legal Aid expnditure being over-budget for a number of years and all concerned have been trying to find a way to deal with it.

    My understanding is that when Policing and Justice was being devolved, a budget was set for legal aid. I believe there has been an argument because Ford has reduced this by another few million since he made his most recent budget proposals to the assembly.

    The Bar and the Law Society worked together to draw up a plan to spend the budget in a way that met the needs of the criminal justice system. The joint proposal has been ignored.

    The argument is over the particular cut to crown court work. David Ford has decided to make his cuts to one particular section of the legal aid budget. In respect of the most difficult and presumably the most important crown court cases, this amounts to a cut of over 50%. Those difficult case, the Very High Cost Cases, are given an enhanced fee. That has been removed and on top of the the normal fee for crown court work has been reduced by 25% for solicitors and 20% for counsel.

    Thats where the argument is. It does seem strange to me that Ford has decided to wield the knife at the most important part of the legal aid budget.

    In any case, this is now a PR battle for the Justice Ministry. I get very sceptical when politicians make sweeping statements and do not back it up with figures. He says our system is the most generous in the world, yet i do not know where the evidence is of this .

    But the biggest issue here is that the Bar and Law Society must retain their independence. If they allow the quality of the service they provide to be dictated by the State, then its game over.

  • Old Mortality

    Seymour
    “Solicitors run multiple numbers of files at the same time and they need to be continuously managed. Solicitors also run the most of the communication on the case. Barristers are not saddled with the administration of the files. This frees them up to do more research. Having more research time, the specialist legal base knowledge, and instant access to a well-resourced library enables the barrister to come up with the legal solution quicker and cheaper.”

    Do you mean that barristers are only ever dealing with one case at a time. If so, it’s little wonder that criminal justice is so slow.
    I accept your point on specialising but there is no justification for barristers to operate separately especially in a jursidiction where the state provides the vast bulk of their income. In other words without legal aid, the bar would not exist in NI.
    They may come up with a legal solution quicker but I doubt that it’s often cheaper.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Do you have any figures to suggest that the State provide the vast bulk of barristers? It doesn’t provide mine.

    The value of separation is that there can be a centralisation of the kind of specialism that Barristers have. I know that I could not do what I do in any solicitor firm in N.I. They wouldn’t have te resources – access to law libraries, texts etc. Also, the centralisation allows for Barristers to assist one another in a way that would not be possible in a solicitor firm. Beyond that, i’mnot exactly sure what the value would be. One solicitor cannot do the work that is currently done by a barrister and a solicitor. It’s too difficult and involves too much multi-tasking. Where’s the value in paying for two solicitors with their overheads when you can have one solicitor and a specialist advocate with relatively little in the way of overheads?

  • Old Mortality

    Lionel
    As you’re a barrister yourself, you’ll have a fair idea of the numerical breakdown between criminal (dependent on legal aid) and civil. I can’t believe that the latter aren’t in the majority and account for an even greater proportion of earnings.
    “Where’s the value in paying for two solicitors with their overheads when you can have one solicitor and a specialist advocate with relatively little in the way of overheads?
    If they are both working for the same firm, surely they share the overheads.
    Why does a law library depend on the existence of barristers? Could it not be supported by solicitors?

    The point I’m making, Lionel, is that we cannot afford to indulge this affectation of a separate bar in Northern Ireland. There could still be a place for a few professional barristers (including yourself perhaps) for those who are willing and able to afford them for commercial work.

  • Lionel Hutz

    As you’re a barrister yourself, you’ll have a fair idea of the numerical breakdown between criminal (dependent on legal aid) and civil. I can’t believe that the latter aren’t in the majority and account for an even greater proportion of earnings.

    —————-

    I’m as certain as it is possible to be that criminal work does not account for a majority of earnings. It’s impossible. There’s family law, administrative, corporate/commercial law, chancery, employment, torts to name but a few. I would be surprised if criminal law was the biggest sector in financial terms.

    But then legal aid is different thing again. Many family cases and civil cases are funded by legal aid these days. I wouldnt know what the breakdown. That type of information is unavailable as you are talking the individual private earnings of over 600 people.

    But as to your point about the future of the bar. I’m not wedded to it and have been qualified for a few years. If it changed for the better, fantastic. But I honestly don’t believe that what your suggesting is the right way. I don’t think people realise just how difficult this job is. The sheet volume of legal material required to defend a case is beyond the resources of 95% of solicitor firms in NI. Even amongst the established firms. I don’t think there would be a firm outside Belfast who would be capable of doing it without the independent Bar.

  • otto

    I’m trying to think of another profession which has the semi-private status of lawyers but which receives state payment on a self-certifying time charge basis.

    Dentists and Opticians are paid a fixed amount per procedure (an eye-test, supply of a pair of glasses, a filling) and forms are signed by patients specifying the work done which are then audited by the paying agency.

    Doctors and teachers are directly employed by the state and overseen that way. Private schools receive no contribution from the state.

    Contractors (civil engineers and such) tender against a given scope of works.

    I’m not sure anyone understands what incentives exist for lawyers to bring cases to a close as expeditiously as appropriate. Is the problem for legal-aid lawyers that they expect too much to be taken on a trust that maybe just isn’t there?

  • Lionel Hutz

    If they are both working for the same firm, surely they share the overheads.
    Why does a law library depend on the existence of barristers? Could it not be supported by solicitors?
    ——————-

    It would be interesting to see what a solicitor thinks of that. The Bar is a sort pool of knowledge and I don’t think solicitors could operate the same kind of system. And solicitors are based here and everywhere. Where would this library be? Would Legal Aid have to pay for travel to get to this library?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Otto,

    Your simply wrong. Firstly, the vast majority of areas of work are billed on a flat rate basis. There are some areas where payment is made on a time-based report. However, nothing is simply self-certified. A written report is submitted to taxation and whilst a fee is marked, the fee is scrutinised.

  • Lionel Hutz

    And it’s completely private. Legal assistance is given to the client to help fund their case and insure against costs. The client instructs the lawyers, not the state!

  • Lionel Hutz

    Sorry, the phone sent that last one unfinished.

    I’d suggest you go and look for another private profession that allows the state to dictate what remuneration is enough to do the job well!

  • Old Mortality,

    “Do you mean that barristers are only ever dealing with one case at a time. If so, it’s little wonder that criminal justice is so slow?”

    Barristers do have far fewer files. That is entirely logical. Consider civil cases generally. Of all actions launched, only 2% of them actually get to a trial. The advocate’s job of preparing a case for trial is intensive and, yes, sometimes that means that the barrister is only concentrating on one case at a time.

    Criminal justice is slow, not usually because of barristers’ work, but mostly because of the preparation of the prosecution case between charge and trial. Sometimes the delays are because of the need for expert evidence or getting all the necessary witnesses available for the trial period.

    I have read the comments of Lionel. I do not disagree with anything he says.

    Note that in New Zealand the profession of solicitors and barristers is merged whereas in other jurisdictions, there is more flexibility in relation to what Barristers can do. For example, in England, other professions such as doctors, surveyors are alllowed to consult a barrister directly. In other jurisdictions, multi-disciplinary partnerships are allowed. De-regulation of the professions is a vastly complex subject with a lot of angles. I dont profess to know them all but I believe it is something that should and will be investigated by a commision in the future.

    However, solicitors themselves are evolving sub-professions. In Northern Ireland, we have a children order panel. In England and Wales, there are even more specialist panels where certain areas of work (eg crinminal duty solicitor work at courts and police stations) are restricted to solicitors with certain accreditation.

    Legal Aid in England is now franchised. That is an example of getting nearer to nationalisation which DC advocates AND it is about to come to Northern Ireland.

    BUT all of these discussions are fogging the thrust of this thread, which is about one particular part of legal aid funding.

    It is obvious that there is a lot to talk about in the provision of legal services. We need more threads on related topics.

  • Zig70

    The headline figures were £2.39M paid to Winters, £1M paid to Madden and Finucane. Now if the average quoted is £30k then Winters have the equivalent of 79 solicitors working each year on legal aid. Something doesn’t add up. Someone mentioned bringing solicitors in house but the salaries and payment terms to Doctors would pour scorn on this. I’m sure Solicitors would love to get a 2-3x salary increase and be able to take on private work in their normal work hours. Ford is pitching his offer where it hurts, just as is common practice in the private sector. The payments should be reviewed every year and put out to tender. There are some people who love to get blood out of a stone, in purchasing, in the company I work for and the government could do with a few of their elk.
    I hear also that translators get paid more than solicitors in courts. What’s that about? My experience in court gave me a loathing for barristers. So much repetition. The clerk should be able to red card and fine them for timing wasting.

  • “The headline figures were £2.39M paid to Winters, £1M paid to Madden and Finucane. Now if the average quoted is £30k then Winters have the equivalent of 79 solicitors working each year on legal aid. Something doesn’t add up.”

    There is nothing wrong with your Maths, Zig Zag. The big problem with your calculations are that the figure you have quoted are the fees, not the profits of those firms.

    I also dont think you are being realistic about the figure of £30,000 either. That salary might be adequate for a solicitor on 2 years post qualification experience. It would be far from adequate for somebody higher up the scale.

    Dont get me wrong. I am not in favour of the taxpayer just allowing solicitors to have whatever they think they are entitled to. The money has to be sufficiently attractive to entice the professionals to do the work. If it is not, then you will see a crisis like there is in London where there is a shortage of firms taking on legal aid family law work.

    http://www.cypnow.co.uk/news/776936/Analysis-Family-Law—Families-facing-legal-aid-desert

    In the public sector, the crown prosecution service in England had, until the recession came, struggled to recruit enough solicitors. That could happen again.

    Whether anybody likes it or not, the public funding for lawyers, whether as Government employees or as recipients of legal aid, has to be related to what lawyers are paid in the private market. That does not mean it has to be equal – just enough to retain enough good people to do the job.

  • In fairness to Zig Zag and just to show that I was not obfuscating the possibility of a firm earning too much, a closer analysis of one of the firms quoted is as follows

    Kevin Winters & Co have thirteen solicitors. 5 of them are partners.

    A reasonable fee to profit ratio is 35%. Let us assume that all of their income is legal aid (which of course it is not but let us just assume that) this would leave a profit of about £1,015,000 between 5 partners. Bearing in mind that the senior partner has the highest profit share (let us also not forget that he founded the firm) it is reasonable to assume that the income of Mr. Winters is in excess of £400,000.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Zig,

    “The payments should be reviewed every year and put out to tender.”

    Once again, I will remind you that legal services commission is not paying for solicitors to do work for them. The commission is providing assitance to citizens to fund their case. The citizen chooses the solicitor.

  • latcheeco

    Kevin Barry,
    Those of us who have had the misfortune of having to avail of legal services are well aware that your profession doesn’t normally write in English, but when extolling your erudition it’s best to be aware that the past participle of the verb to go is “gone” not “went” as in “have gone” not “have went.”

    And Lionel,
    It’s “you’re simply wrong”, not “your simply wrong”, although compared to Kevin’s, your offense could be knocked down to a misdemeanor.

  • Kevin Barry

    latcheeco

    It’s a blogging website, forgive me for my really not giving a fiddler’s for grammatical niceties.

    Also, glad you’re actually answering some of the points raised on this thread. Oh, wait a minute….

  • Kevin Barry

    latcheeco

    When extolling your erudition on the correct use of the English,

  • Kevin Barry

    Apologies everyone, mobile internet on the fritz once again

  • latcheeco

    Kevin Barry,
    I wouldn’t have thought the point was as much about grammatical niceties as it was the use of standard English by those patronizingly vaunting the depth of their training in legal niceties.

    Though to answer your point, like many people, I think lawyers in the North had for years been glutting at the trough; enriching themselves on the misery and easy pickings of the Troubles’ industry and its aligned bottomless Exchequer, while at the same time comiserating with each other in the echo chambers of their self-regulating, rarely accountable, publicly funded, fraternal monopoly that they weren’t getting nearly enough approbation and renumeration from society for their Atticus-like stoicism, heroism, and sagacity. Echoes of which sentiments can be clearly sensed when reading the pity-party above.

    Paradoxically, it’s a widely expressed opinion that much of their work during this time was of such dismal quality that the lowly minions of the court service spent most of their poorly-paid time fixing the legal mistakes of extortionately paid private lawyers.

    The problem now is that too many of the current crop do not yet realize that these are not their daddy’s courts because, sadly, those days have gone or are are going away, and that they must now base their earnings realistically on what they would be in any similar, relatively quiet, colonial backwater where they depend on the government for work.

  • Kevin Barry

    latcheeco,

    Have you checked your own postings on this site? Last time I checked somebody can be accused of ‘whining like a bitch’, not ‘wining like a bitch’, but if Cynic2 was ‘wining’ at, with or on something, care to elaborate what it was? Otherwise, did you just make that one up?

    http://sluggerotoole.com/profile/latcheeco/

    re Holy Cross, the ECHR and (sigh) the NIHRC @ 12.53am

    I was ‘ vaunting the depth of their training in legal niceties.’ – last time I checked, for myself, I said I was NY Bar qualified, nothing more.

    Furthermore, I pointed out that £140ph is nothing regarding covering a solicitor’s fees considering all that is involved and elaborated on by Seymour (I didn’t need my legal training to come to this conclusion, just my experience from looking at our firm’s management accounts), however, you seem to be happy to rely on conjecture and personal opinion on how solicitors were ‘aligned [to a seemingly] bottomless Exchequer’, whilst providing no evidence; fair enough.

    ‘It’s a widely expressed opinion that much of their work during this time was of such dismal quality that the lowly minions of the court service spent most of their poorly-paid time fixing the legal mistakes of extortionately paid private lawyers.’

    Care to provide some proof as to the quality provided during this time or someone else’s opinion or is this just your own?

    As noted by Seymour and others, solicitors in the North, on average, don’t exactly make huge amounts of money and as noted by myself, from my experience and having spoken to my friends who work as solicitors or barristers back home, they’re not on huge money, they’re in huge debt.

    I do not do any work that is paid for by legal aid, I do not practice law in NI nor have any intention to as there is no scope in NI to work in my field so I have no stake in how this pans out, but forgive me for defending those who would work in NI and rely on legal aid related work as a part of their wage when I believe they are being unfairly singled out for cuts as they are an easy target (this thread being a perfect example), the hard work that they put in is not recognised, and, for a lot of them, they are not getting recompensed enough to even cover their own expenses, never mind wallowing in easy money.

    Most, and I mean most, do not make anywhere in the region of 6 figures and provide an excellent service to their clients.

    ‘The problem now is that too many of the current crop do not yet realize that these are not their daddy’s courts because, sadly, those days have gone or are are going away, and that they must now base their earnings realistically on what they would be in any similar, relatively quiet, colonial backwater where they depend on the government for work.’

    That would be why NI lawyers are, on average, the 2nd worst paid in all of the UK. (Please see Seymour’s posting earlier)

    Seemingly, the only people who would continue to have delusions as to the earnings of NI solicitors would be posters like yourself.

  • DC

    But the biggest issue here is that the Bar and Law Society must retain their independence. If they allow the quality of the service they provide to be dictated by the State, then its game over.

    The law society is a closed shop – it does self-regulation of its industry which by name and nature immediately attracts suspicion.

  • DC

    Would Legal Aid have to pay for travel to get to this library?

    Does my employer pay my train into work?

    If it is not, then you will see a crisis like there is in London where there is a shortage of firms taking on legal aid family law work.

    That’s not a legal services problem per se – it is down to the fact that the square mile in London is a financial services centre of the world, a place a part, it is more to do with the shape of London’s economy and the inflationary impact that global wealth has created on land and services etc. The same argument applies to any profession in London I imagine. It is still a problem all the same, but it is one more of inequalities in earnings and that of land values being ridiculously high in London, therefore so is doing business in the centre.

    For instance there are too many of these people about in London:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1378394/SOLD-Ukraines-richest-man-snaps-Britains-expensive-flat–whopping-136MILLION.html