Feature

Stop chasing the pot of gold: there’s no future for wannabe criminal lawyers

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You’ll earn more money working down the pub, admits top solicitor

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Stop chasing your criminal law dreams: people who want to help the community just aren’t valued any more.

It’s sad advice, but it’s said with good intentions, and by two people that really know what they’re talking about.

The warning comes from the men at the top of Edward Fail, Bradshaw & Waterson (EFBW) — a top-tier London criminal law firm that has been hit hard by the government’s public funding shake up.

EFBW hit the headlines this month when it was revealed that it had failed in one of its duty contract bids because of a painstakingly basic transcription error by the Legal Aid Agency.

This key government contract is a lawyer’s ticket to doing duty solicitor work, and without it a firm cannot survive for long. The government has slashed the number of contracts available from 1,600 to 527, which meant that law firms had to bid for a chance to be one of the lucky few.

So, when EFBW found out they’d missed getting a contract that should have been awarded to them, they were unsurprisingly devastated.

Legal Cheek went to meet with Edward Preston and Paul Harris, both partners at the Tower Hamlets-based firm, to find out what this means not only for them, but also for the future of the profession.

The picture is bleak.

Years of legal aid cuts and reforms under the lord chancellorship of hate-figure Chris Grayling have reshaped the profession beyond recognition. Controversy over the legal aid procurement process is yet another blow in what’s been a tough couple of years.

Preston told us:

The government are in the process of mucking up not just the NHS, but the probation, police and prison service.

The situation is critical, but it’s not easy to rally public compassion. Speaking in the wake of the junior doctors’ strike, Harris commented:

Doctors definitely get more sympathy than lawyers… But people don’t realise just how bad the [criminal justice] system is until they are involved in it, and by then it’s too late.

When asked about lawyers’ money-hungry stereotype, Preston quipped:

All this fat-cat nonsense: we’re skinny cats.

Before Harris added:

Starving cats.

This is because cases are taken up on a fixed-fee basis, which means the number of hours spent preparing a case does not affect the level of remuneration. Hour by hour, wages can dip well below minimum wage. Preston went as far as to say:

I’d earn more money working in the pub.

So when asked if they would advise a young lawyer to join a criminal law firm, it’s unsurprising that the answer was a resounding no.

Unlike when both men started up their careers, there is simply no viable future for the profession any more. Preston paints a particularly dismal picture:

You’re subject to fat-cat abuse, bureaucracy and red tape. There’s a constant set of hoops in front of you. It’s a life of stress and strain.

Harris had a similar message:

If you want to go into this, you have to be absolutely committed and passionate about this kind of work. I don’t want to discourage people who genuinely want to work to help their communities, but the hard reality is that the level of pay and prospects have been reducing for the past 10-15 years.

More worrying still is that this isn’t just a criminal law problem — these headaches taint many areas of community-orientated legal practice, family law being a particularly pertinent example.

So why, if law firms are stretched to their limits, has the number of law school places skyrocketed by over 5,000 since 2007?

Preston raises the very same question. He said:

Legal education has become a commercial business. Thousands of students are churned out year on year and there are no jobs. There are people out there chasing a dream, but there’s no pot of gold out there for them.

In the midst of this legal aid procurement process fiasco, Preston and Harris’s responses are not surprising. What is less predictable is what this all means for existing firms, like EFBW, and their lawyers.

And that’s the worst bit of this all — they simply do not know.

How, Harris asks, can you possibly plan for the future when there are lingering uncertainties about how much longer the firm can survive? He commented:

I just want to get on with some work, without this lurking in the background.

The next weeks and months will be pivotal. A court hearing is scheduled for the end of the month, which should hopefully make clearer EFBW’s position. There is some hope that Justice Secretary Michael Gove can unpick the catastrophic policies adopted by his predecessor, as we’re already starting to see with developments such as the scrapping of the criminal courts charge. A political U-turn could be just days away.

It would no doubt be an indefensible shame if what Harris terms a “basic and incompetent error” led to the demise of such a well-established and well-meaning firm.

35 Comments

Anonymous

painstakingly basic transcription error?

painfully basic, surely?

very basic there KAtie

(15)(6)

Anonymous

Stop chasing your journalism dreams Katie.

Vacuous, self-righteous and thoroughly patronising viewpoint about the future of crime spouted by LC’s chief doomsday correspondent, yet again.

Yawn.

(19)(14)

Anonymous

She’s a graduate who thinks she knows more than enough to lecture the rest of us on how the legal profession works.

When Katie actually works in a law firm (if indeed she ever does) she’ll look back on her articles here with embarrassment.

(6)(4)

Lottie proudman

Who the feck is katie?!

(1)(0)

Shirley

What exactly will it take for you idiots to get the message?

(1)(2)

Anonymous

What message?

(1)(0)

Criminal Trainee

Take this with a pinch of salt. The advice comes from two men who have had the lining cut from their pockets by the LAA.

I’m a trainee at a Midlands based firm who won all our bids. I have a good salary and a job here post qualification.

Perspective

(17)(6)

Anonymous

However still does not detract from the fact that the article is spot on

(13)(7)

Criminal Trainee

There is still good money to be made for people wanting to enter the Legal Aid sector.

Paralegals who are working towards Police Station Duty Representative qualifications can make a killing on call.

Sure, we don’t have the flash suits and champagne client lunches that the city boys do but we get good money for our graft

(10)(3)

Stop Talking Shite

How do paralegals get duty qualified ?

(2)(0)

Criminal Trainee

Police Station Accreditation. Not Court Duty. Although CILEX can be duty I believe

(1)(0)

Anonymous

About to start a criminal pupillage. Met a lot of people in and out of chambers who feel positively about the Criminal bar.

(17)(4)

Anonymous

Which chambers out of curiosity?

(2)(4)

Anonymous

Amethyst.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

LOL

(15)(3)

Anonymous

Typical legal cheek over-inflated bar snob comment.

Anonymous

If I told you that, out of curiosity, I would have to kill you.

(0)(0)

China

I was looking evwreyhere and this popped up like nothing!

(0)(0)

MOJ PR Dept.

I’m a legal aid lawyer and I get paid too much if anything.

Last week I used some ridiculous human rights laws to get some guilty people out of jail and then thought about looking into some war crimes stuff. Ended up with half a million in my pocket.

(13)(23)

Anonymous

What was the error? Otherwise decent article spoiled.

(0)(5)

Miss Take

“A courrt hearing”

(0)(2)

Anonymous

With use of “top” solicitors, men at “top” of EFBW, a “top-tier” criminal law firm, perhaps it’s time to invest in a thesaurus?

(6)(2)

Anonymous

Absolute balls

(2)(5)

Not Amused

This is a true and very important article.

Sadly the truth is never popular.

(2)(8)

Anonymous

You work in criminal law then Not Amused?

Load of utter tosh this. Do not believe the scaremongers.

(3)(1)

retiredbrief

They speak the truth.
It used to be a good living. Now it is a ticket to ruin.
Good luck to the youngsters who have made positive postings here. But they must ask themselves, where will they be and what will they be earning in 10 years time? Will they be able to advance their life plans? How are they ever going to earn what the job used to yield?
Sorry but the vast majority are going to be disappointed. £25K per annum might sound okay at 25. It won’t at 35, and now is the time to address the matter, not then.

(3)(1)

Criminal Trainee

Trainees here earn £21k, £27k upon qualification, £35k when Duty Qualified (usually 2 years PQE), and £45k for an Associate with supervisory duties.

All levels have target related bonuses at year end.

We’re doing alright thanks.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

So on a par with a school teacher or fireman but well behind a policeman for the first years. Take into account the time taken to do a degree and the gap increases in relation to the latter two professions.

Half the salary of a GP.

Let us not get on to London Underground staff…

Funny thing salary levels in the UK.

One thing is clear which is that the pay of criminal barristers has halved in real terms since 1998.

(1)(0)

Lord Lyle of thae Isles

O’er 25 years ah rarely did any criminal legal Aid work as there was nae spondullies in it. Ah mostly only did private cash on the nose or on a conditional fee agreement that ah got half the Loot if ah got em off. That’s where the real money is.

Tis the woe of Sassenachs that they ne’er learn

(0)(1)

Anonymous

The 2 most commonly used words on Legal Cheek. “Top” and “Wannabe”

(2)(0)

Anonymous

And let’s not forget, coming in at #1, “hotshot”.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Lost for words Not Amused?

Do you work in criminal law? No? Then I’d maybe leave telling the “truth” to those who do.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Oh for God’s sake – the naivety of juniors entering the criminal legal profession is beyond belief. My partner (27 years in a good set) smoking outside chambers yesterday was accosted by someone of similar mind to those above. He was asked genuinely ‘Where does Martha Costello practise?’ The questioner after an exchange did not seem to understand that she is a fictional character, rather like the theory on here that the criminal legal profession is ok.

It is in tatters & no Not Amused not because of the greed of senior members.

(1)(0)

Minerva

Re: Pot of Gold
Tonight’s winning lottery numbers
24-28-31-33-55-59
Cost of ticket £2.00
Pro bono

(0)(0)

Mickey

Unealallpred accuracy, unequivocal clarity, and undeniable importance!

(0)(0)

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