Interview with Jim Meyer

PUBLISHED November 25, 2011

Q: What is the history of your involvement with the LCCSA? Why did you take the presidential job on?

A: I joined the Association as soon as I qualified and I joined the committee in 2005, when Linda Woolley was president. I worked quite closely with Linda, meeting the press and helping her co-ordinate the campaign against best value tendering. And one of my primary roles was to revamp the Association's website; I helped set up the email alert system that we now use. Then I became heavily involved in representing the LCCSA and its members on various working groups and parties to do with the litigators' graduated fee scheme and also the changes to the way high cost cases were remunerated. It's a real honour to serve as president: when you look at who has served in years gone by, when I was asked, I couldn't really turn it down. It's easy to sit back and benefit from the work of others but I want to make a difference and I want to contribute.

Q: Tell me about your firm, Tuckers, and your role there.

A: Tuckers has offices in London, Manchester and Birmingham. It specialises in criminal litigation and civil liberties and we employ just over 150 lawyers and about 200 staff in total. I joined in 1995, shortly after completing my articles, and I became a partner in 2005. I work with my fellow partner, Richard Egan, running London's special casework department, overseeing the London office's high profile/high value cases, and I also head up the regulatory and enforcement team, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive. My firm represents more suspects in police custody than any other. We build a huge volume of publicly funded criminal defence work and, while I'm not personally responsible for all of that, I do some legal aid work and I've never wanted to turn my back on it.

Q: Do you feel a tension between working for one of the largest law firms and your LCCSA job of representing all the small ones?

A: The LCCSA is not an autocracy, its president is not an absolute ruler and we've got a great mix of solicitors on the committee ? owners, employees, small, medium and large firms, firms who undertake publicly funded work and firms who just do private work. The committee has representatives from the CPS and the young solicitors' group. We are the voice of criminal solicitors practising in London. We are about furthering the interests of all of our members and I'm committed to doing that. Ever since I joined the Association, I've walked this tightrope and the way I've done it is to divorce the interests of my firm from the interests of the profession as a whole. Actually, I hope that the two coincide more often than they collide ? and they do really. My partners at Tuckers have always been very supportive and tolerant of the time I spend on work for the Association; and they've never said ?This is the message we want you to

Q: What will be your strategy over BVT?

A: There've been a variety of flavours in price competition ideas over the years, beginning with Lord Carter's proposals in 2005; many say that the labels change but the ingredients remain the same. In the market that we call publicly funded criminal defence services, where there's one buyer, which is run by the Ministry of Justice, and where there are many sellers, who are defence law firms, competition is going to be imperfect. All the proposals thus far have failed to meet the concerns that we all have as a result of that imperfection.

The LCCSA has an absolutely pivotal role to play. It's difficult to articulate our strategy without knowing what this year's proposals are going to be. But, as we've done before, there will be a sub-committee specifically dedicated to the issue; and the work of that committee will be shaped by the members. My approach is to look at whatever the proposals are from an individual solicitor's perspective: anything that impacts on the quality of criminal defence services should unite the profession.

Q: What will be the effect of the changes to London weighting?

A: The Association has campaigned tirelessly against the loss of London weighting but we have effectively been a lone voice with little or no support from other representative organisations. The costs of operating in the capital are significantly higher than the costs of
operating elsewhere; but the government has slowly chipped away so that London solicitors are now only paid a small enhancement for their magistrates'court work. Now, despite the best efforts of the Association, that enhancement seems to have been lost. I've no doubt
about the negative impact that this is going to have on the profitability of our members' firms. But what is going to drive the final nail into the coffin for many will be the changes on committal fees and to the way that cracked trials in the Crown Court are remunerated.

Small reductions can be absorbed ? we can adjust how we operate ? but it's the combination of initiatives to reduce spend on legal aid that spells disaster. The current consultation processes and the statutory impact assessments consistently fail to address that.

The LCCSA was a driving force behind the Law Society's action to judicially review the Ministry of Justice's removal of funding in the magistrates' court for cases where jurisdiction is declined. Feelings are running high following MoJ's suggestion that we'll continue to act for free, and meetings are being organised across the country to gauge lawyers' reactions.

Q: Do you have any concerns about QASA?

A: A great many. Up till now, I'm not sure that everyone has appreciated the effect this is going to have in restricting youth court trials to higher court advocates and in meaning that solicitor advocates who want to conduct PCMH hearings or sentence hearings will also have to undertake trial work to achieve accreditation. I'm not sure there has been a full understanding of the accreditation procedures or of the fact that the proposals apply to magistrates' court work as well as Crown Court work ? which will mean a significant recurring cost to firms. The Association has responded to the consultation and must work with the Solicitors' Association of Higher Court Advocates, the Law Society and also the Bar Council to lobby the decision makers.

Q: What other challenges do you see on the horizon this year?

A: Some big changes will result from the CPS commitment to electronic working which is due to be introduced in April. Criminal practitioners, prosecutors and defence lawyers alike, are going to have to radically rethink the way they engage with the evidence in the case, with the participants in a prosecution, in terms of correspondence and also when they are at court. It's going to be huge. I think the Association definitely has a role here. Some practitioners have already entered into the process of working digitally and know the pitfalls ? I myself work in a pretty much paperless way and I'm quite evangelical about the use of IT ? and we can share that knowledge with other members and with prosecuting agencies. Some aspects are not going to work, for example, when dealing with those remanded in custody overnight, it will not be realistic to expect solicitors to log on to their secure email accounts via a web browser at court. These are the practical considerations that the LCCSA is excellent at identifying and communicating.

Q: Do you have ambitions for the LCCSA website this year?

A: I overhauled the LCCSA website in 2005, so that it offered a huge amount of functionality compared to previously. From 2005 until 2009, I was spending 30 to 40 minutes a day going through newspapers and so on, updating it. Since then, it has slowed down. This is
a commitment which I want to re-engage. I think it's going to be a really valuable resource this year.

Q: Why do you live in Ireland? How do you organise your life and travel?

A: I live just outside Belfast. I fell in love with a stenographer in my first Crown Court case at Southwark. She comes fro
m Northern Ireland. We married and, after my son Jacob was born, I ran out of excuses as to why we needed to stay in London. It's very
easy to travel between Northern Ireland and London. My computer and my iPad make it all perfectly possible. I use video conferencing a lot. It doesn't matter where the case is, all the papers are scanned, on the central server, and I've got access to this wherever I am. I come to London about once a week. I shall be chairing the committee in person and will be representing the Association in meetings in person.

Q: What led you to become a lawyer?

A: It was always criminal law for me. When I was a boy, I used to stay up and watch a programme called Petrocelli, about a criminal defence lawyer in America. I discovered that I was good at exams and I did the A levels which would lead to a law career, took a year out travelling and then went to law school. I did my articles at Claude Hornby and Cox, qualified and joined Tuckers.

I've always believed that everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, is entitled to a proper defence and that everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law. We're reaching a stage now where that ideal is seriously under threat. It is not the middle classes but only the incredibly wealthy who can afford to pay for a defence which, if you are publicly funded, is going to be out of your reach.

Q: What is your personal background and do you have any interests outside the law?

A: I have an Australian passport. My dad was a submariner with the British navy. He met my mum in Sydney. We moved a lot and I went to school in various countries. I have two daughters, aged seven and three; my son sadly died. When I'm not working or doing things with the family, I'm building a website or writing a computer programme.

The article was first published in the Advocate.