Fight Club

In March 2013 George Osborne’s introduction to his Budget speech included these words: “This is a Budget for those who aspire to own their own home; who aspire to get their first job; or start their own business; a Budget for those who want to save for their retirement and provide for their children. It is a Budget for our Aspiration Nation.”

He went on to refer to the positive steps the Government would take in order to support and encourage small to medium sized businesses through their own procurement procedures: “To help small firms, we’ll increase by fivefold the value of government procurement budgets spent through the Small Business Research Initiative.”

Yesterday the Lord Chancellor announced Government policy that will put hundreds of small to medium businesses out of business by the way the Government have chosen to procure legal services. Yesterday he signed the warrant of execution for scores of businesses that provide a service to the community at the very heart of the High Street.

There will be 527 duty contracts. There are currently something in the region of 1,600 criminal legal aid providers. There are some who will survive. There are those who hope they can prosper from this scheme. And there are those who will be “consolidated” out of existence.

So why should you care?

Well that depends who you are.

Senior Solicitors: Clearly there are going to be losers in all this. People put out of work. Your colleagues and friends.

Yes some of you will survive. Yes some of you will still eek out an existence by coming up with a business model that works.

But ask yourself this – did you go to university, law school and spend hours working your way through the profession to undertake criminal law as purely a business? If you did then you must be pretty stupid. Sorry if that seems offensive but there are much better businesses for you to profit from.

You are an equity partner in your firm because you care about the delivery of justice to both the accused and the victim. Reignite that ideal now.

The cuts and consolidation impact upon the access to justice in a way unprecedented since the creation of the Legal Aid scheme.

I appreciate it is difficult in that there are your staff to consider but you are the leaders of your profession. Explain to your staff why action has to be taken. Then take it.

Junior Solicitors: This is your future. Your career. Seek out your senior partner. Tell them of your ambitions. Tell them of your ideals. Ask them to fight on.

The Criminal Bar: I really hope that it does not need explaining to barristers that a section of your supplier base ceasing to exist is bad news for you as a business. And I am afraid it is no answer to say there will still be the same number of cases.

If you are unlucky, and there will be some who are this unlucky, either the majority of your solicitors or the majority of your chambers’ solicitors will go out of business or stop/reduce their criminal work.

If they go out of business and the individuals are fortunate enough to find work elsewhere or if the firm is subsumed by some greater entity there is no guarantee that they will continue to instruct you. In fact the larger firms with greater volumes of work and greater control of blocks of cases coming up from the magistrates is the perfect scenario for the employment of in-house advocates.

Individuals and possibly whole chambers are going to struggle. So polish your CV. You may soon need to find alternative employment too.

Even if you retain a sufficient client base to carry on you need to appreciate the political reality. The solicitors are also facing the implementation of the second round of cuts. We have seen the reports that suggest minimal profit margins for firms in the new Legal Aid landscape.

So the next time a civil servant has to suggest to a minister where a few savings can be made what do you think the answer will be? Advocacy fees.

Other Barristers: The financial struggles of your colleagues leads to higher chambers’ expenses. The disappearance of some firms could impact upon your access to work.

And then there is the fact that this is plain wrong.

Campaigners for Justice: Nearly every concern that PCT brought now resurfaces. Choice is reduced in a shrinking market place. Quality is reduced as bulk work and cheap prices take the place of specialisation and excellence.

The General Public: I would like to think that the people of this nation care about the quality of justice. This is not just about guilty men complaining they do not have access to a Playstation as is their Human Right. This is about a justice system in decline, miscarriages of justice, a lowering of standards across the board. It is setting up massive costs for the future, both financial and social.

And it does have an impact upon you. The firm in the High Street? The firm that helped when your neighbour caused a nuisance? The firm that did your Grannies’ will? The firm that did your conveyancing? By this time next year they could have gone out of business. You might have another charity shop.

So what can we do? The simple answer is to fight it. The how we fight is for discussion. The two observations I will make is that it does not have to be every criminal practitioner who fights. Just a significant number. And I know it is difficult to see a rival still work whilst you take direct action. I know it is because I have witnessed it. But the alternative is worse. So unity is not the same as unanimity. Organisation and information is the key.

The other observation is that whatever has happened in the past must be consigned to the past. It matters not who let who down last time round. This is now. Action is needed. The last thing a Government seeking re-election in May needs is things going seriously wrong at the moment.

I will say that it is unrealistic to expect the Bar to take the only direct action. Solicitors will have to organise and take steps themselves. I, for one, would join with them like a shot because this is important. Really important.

8 thoughts on “Fight Club

  1. Kate Mallison

    I completely agree. However what a number of solicitors are doing is simply blaming the Bar for this situation as opposed to working out how to fight it. I find the sniping rather wearing and most of it is ill informed. So please, ideas about the way forward and please- if you though the “no returns” worked- trust TCqc on things as that was his idea. So to the barracades

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    1. Solicitor-Advocate

      I don’t know of many people who are blaming the Bar… But I do know many who pity the Bar. The junior Bar will be the first to go out of business as the 527 firms still in business keep everything in house to try and make ends meet. The arrogance of some of the Bar in failing to assess the bigger and very obvious picture when stopping no returns is an embarrassing Indictment of the Bar in my view.

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  2. James vine

    Kate. Whilst a number of solicitors are understandably complaining about the Bar’s myopic self interest, as evidenced by the Deal (for which you voted) and the withdrawal of No Returns, solely on the grounds that reduction in the Bar’s fees had been sidelined, many others have been working day and night on new ideas about the way forward.
    You are obviously not too well informed yourself. Especially suggesting that No Returns was Tony Cross’s idea. It was not. I am on the CBA Exec, and I know exactly who first suggested it, to initial derision.
    It’s a good thing that some of the few who are prepared to resist the many, in pursuit of what is right, are also more resilient than others

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  3. thebungblog

    Reblogged this on Do Right, Fear No One and commented:
    A call to arms from Jaime Hamilton. I echo every word. The indolence of a thankfully dwindling few at the Bar, is perfectly exemplified by the first comment
    It’s time to unite and fight. If you can’t or won’t then best leave the field, however level or otherwise you perceive it to be.
    This is a fight for the survival of the profession
    You are NOT too busy, but if you are too busy to fight now, be thankful that next year you can look forward to a permanent rest. You won’t have a job!

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  4. Rebecca

    Oh for goodness sake Kate! How or why is that comment helpful?? Is “sniping” the new derogative term of choice at the Bar? It is utterly irrelevant who is saying what about whom- don’t you grasp the enormity of all of this? Grayling isn’t on the road to Damascus, the earth isn’t flat, and Santa isn’t bringing better legal aid rates down the chimney. Why you want to bicker about sniping, your profession is disappearing down the pan, along with things like equity and justice, which are actually even more important. We were warned at Lincoln’s Inn last year by Sir Ivan Lawrence, former Tory minister, that the govt will only listen to us if we force them to by direct action. You and those who voted for the deal put your faith in a mirage of believing sense would prevail. It hasn’t. It won’t. I was against the deal, but frankly that is the past, and we are running out of time.

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    1. Nigel Edwards

      It is all too clear that those using the word snipe really mean, shut the F up we know best.

      Politics is not only for the politicians, or elected officials, and opinion is not merely theirs to determine and express.

      Whether we like it or not, the deal done on fees destroyed unity and it gave us all, even those that vehemently disagreed, the reputation of selling all the Solictors down the river for self interest.

      The spirit that was the higher ideal of justice went in the instant the result was returned, and in the eyes of many it was all too easily dismissed and seen as a convenient facade.

      So we now reap what was sown, and those who whine and qualm over being told so need to pull themselves up short and look in the mirror.

      The desire to seek unity and galvanise that spirit again should not be derided as some pompous cliche of barricades or burning oil drums.

      This will all too quickly come down to survival.

      It’s Fight or flight.
      We did the flop.

      It’s not a hard choice, and for many an inevitability.

      I remember the thoughts expressed by so many, “we can worry about that next year or the year after. I must pay my mortgage today”. .

      Well last years tomorrow is here, or it will be if people just sit back.

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  5. Matt lefteris

    As usual, Jaime is spot on. Trouble is – people won’t listen and the bar as usual will do things in the out dated and completely ineffectual way.
    Sir Ivan was right- and we didn’t listen.
    It’s nearly xmas.
    Tenders will go in at the end of jan. And whilst it’s possible that the gov scraps the whole thing in June – we can’t assume for a moment that it will happen. In fact- some of the detail in the ITT indicates that they are deadly serious.
    Personally I think the system needs reform- but destroying the CJS is not the way. We all know that.
    For me 3 things are beyond doubt .
    1- talking / waffling / no returns for a fortnight / a half day off on 6 jan etc will achieve nothing
    2- once these changes come in, there will be no going back- whoever is in power . It would be impossible. Contracts would have been granted and the game would be over
    3- if the changes come in- the bar has NO future . It’s dead. A few might get by but not for long. Any barristers left will go in house – including silks- (I reckon £80k would be the going rate for a qc in house). Nothing will go to chambers aside from the odd warned list shoplifting – and no one will earn more than £40k gross (which is not an option in chambers). The best thing the bar could do? To make the front pages – just !- would be to down tools completely and not work after xmas. Nothing . And get the solrs to do likewise. Obviously not every firm will do that – but many might. Empty courts- packed cells- overflowing police stations – and attention. You might lose income for a month or two but in 10 months you’re unemployed anyway!
    But it won’t happen. As a profession we don’t have the balls. So I for one will be planning my future assuming these changes are happening.
    we COULD stop this happening – but we won’t ……….

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  6. Kevin Hennessy

    As a solicitor I was dismayed by the deal and surprised that it was accepted, but I agree, that is in the past. Grayling will only be defeated with direct action. The Bar must remember that the no returns policy is dependent on solicitors and barristers working together. Solicitors have to placate the courts and clients when counsel is not in attendance and of course counsel will forego fees, but those clients will still be there for counsel to represent after any successful action. I know this from the last no returns policy. This would only be for a short time, however, because it will force Grayling to talk to us very quickly when crown court cases are not progressing. It is to the CLSA, LCCSA and the CBA that he must be forced to talk. The majority of criminal legal aid firms are small and medium, such as mine. Firms such as these are keen to maintain the relationship that they have with the independent bar. I call on the CLSA, LCCSA and CBA to resolve on a joint policy once again, with clear objectives, underpinned by clear and unambiguous undertakings, not to accept any invitation from Grayling to meet without all three of the organisations being present. Its time we made this arrogant self serving idiot, remember that he was elected to serve, not destroy the criminal justice system that has served us so well over many hundreds of years, just to further his career.

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