Huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ specialist says government should legislate to force mega-law firms into pro bono deal
Magic circle law firms should launch pro bono criminal law practices to fill gaps left in legal aid after the last government’s regime of cuts, says the lawyer who recently called for dedicated Islamic airlines and airports.
Solicitor-advocate Jamie Foster — now a partner at east Devon law firm Foster & Griffin — took to social media in the run-up to Thursday’s general election, where he vented spleen over the on-going legal aid debate.
Foster — an animal welfare and country sports specialist practitioner, who joined the west country firm last September — argued on Twitter that large global practices are well-placed to pick up the criminal legal aid slack.
He also flew the controversial kite that mega-firms should be obliged to participate in the pro bono scheme if they wanted to be allowed to practise commercial law in the UK.
— Jamie Foster (@1jamiefoster) May 5, 2015
Foster’s argument essentially runs in support of the last government’s Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling — and it is by no means the most controversial stance he has adopted on social media.
A little more than a year ago — when Foster was a partner at leading mid-tier law firm Clarke Wilmott — the lawyer unleashed a Twitter storm by suggesting a novel solution to the perceived terror threat to air travel.
Create Muslim-only airlines and airports was Foster’s view, suggesting the move would at least allow other passengers to carry as much water in the cabin as they liked. Clarke Willmott scrambled to distance itself from the lawyer’s comments — and he left the practice shortly after the Twitter furore.
Foster’s latest social media hand grenade has attracted mostly reasoned criticism, with Twitter commentators arguing that handing over large chunks of criminal defence work to corporate-commercial and transactional lawyers might not be in the best interests of justice.
Indeed, one imagines that the firm’s indemnity insurers — not to mention the profession’s regulator — would also be less than enamoured with the idea. Sending recently-qualified mergers and acquisitions solicitors into police cells and magistrates’ court in their spare time might just have the word negligence written all over it.
But to be fair on Foster, the constraints of abbreviated comment on Twitter have done him a slight disservice. The solicitor explained to Legal Cheek that his proposal is more sophisticated than simply unleashing recently-qualified City lawyers loose on the criminal justice system.
Instead, Foster would effectively hand over the responsibilities currently held by the Legal Aid Agency to a consortium of large commercial practices that would in turn sub-contract the actual work to a group of small criminal law specialist firms.
“Little firms that are still very good firms would still get the work,” said Foster.
However, he maintained that commercially astute City practices would be more efficient at running the show than is the current government quango.
Crucial to Foster’s plan would be a conditional fee agreement-style deal for the City firms and their outsourced criminal law providers. If they ran successful defences at trial, costs would be reimbursed from central funds — with an uplift.
“Nobody is currently being honest about legal aid,” Foster told Legal Cheek. “Someone needs to get a grip on it and fund the system properly and efficiently.”
Clarke Willmott partner to leave firm after calling for ‘dedicated Islamic airports and airlines’ on Twitter [Legal Cheek]