‘There is no incentive for junior lawyers to qualify into criminal law’, says Junior Lawyers Division

And there will be even less incentive after MoJ pay reforms

The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has said it’s “extremely concerned” about the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) proposed changes to criminal court pay levels. It fears the changes will make crime an even less attractive area of law for aspiring advocates.

The JLD’s strongly worded warning comes in response to the MoJ’s consultation into criminal law remuneration.

Liz Truss and friends are hoping to change the way publicly funded criminal lawyers are paid by shifting the focus away from the “counting pages” method for working out payments, and instead towards the seriousness and complexity of the case.

The fear is that silks will benefit from these changes to the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) because they usually take on more serious and complex matters, and this hike will be at the expense of junior lawyers’ pay packets.

With this the JLD agrees. Representing the interests of Legal Practice Course (LPC) students, trainees and solicitors, the JLD said:

There is no incentive for junior lawyers to qualify into criminal law, which is already an area that has been subject to considerable fee cuts through legal aid reforms, and the MoJ’s proposals only seek to reduce the potential for junior lawyers to earn a living even further.

Continuing, the JLD said it believes the proposals will have a “direct impact” on social mobility in the law. This is because it “simply would not be financially viable” for aspiring criminal advocates from lower socio-economic backgrounds to enter the profession. The consultation response concluded: “the JLD would not wish for there to be a position where only those with sufficient independent means can afford to work as a criminal advocate.”

It’s interesting to contrast the JLD’s wholly negative stance with that of the more hopeful Young Barristers’ Committee (YBC), especially given that both organisations support and represent junior lawyers. Speaking earlier this year, YBC chairman Duncan McCombe said of the MoJ’s plans:

[T]he clear advantage is that young barristers will be paid for their time in court, rather than being paid on an arbitrary basis, and will paid for each appearance rather than feeling like every other case is a loss leader. The scheme also provides the groundwork for newly qualified barristers to have a sustainable career in their early years, and beyond.

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