Q: What is the history of your involvement in the LCCSA? In particular, what have you been doing during the Save Legal Aid campaign?
A: I can?t remember when I joined the LCCSA: it was so long ago. I remember when I was quite new, the excitement of going to the dinner; I used to take half a day off to get ready and get my hair done. I became a committee member in 2007. I was the secretary for two years and I?ve been the editor of the Advocate since 2010.
I?ve attended the meetings of the committee?s campaigning sub-group. We?ve met regularly, weekly or fortnightly, as necessary, throughout the consultation period. On the days of the two demos, my job was to get the speakers in the right place at the right time, so I had to identify them, brief them and make them stand still; it was like herding cats.
Q: Why did you take the presidential job on? Can you think of a more difficult moment to do so? What skills do you bring?
A: What a fantastic honour, to be president of the LCCSA - especially in the 65th birthday year! When I was more junior, it was something I couldn?t even countenance. I?m a big fan of the association; it?s got such a wonderful history; and leading lights in the criminal law have been members for many years. I?ve spent a long time on the committee, I?ve always been really inspired by them and I would like the opportunity to lead them.
Of course, it is a difficult moment to become president but I wouldn?t say it is the most difficult: there have been difficult years dotted throughout history. By the time I become president, the consultation with the Ministry of Justice will have closed and so my role will be to deal with what is going to happen next.
I run a big team at Kingsley Napley (KN) on a day-to-day basis so I?m good on the organisation and management front. I get on well with people. And I can use the fact that KN?s office is so centrally located to the association?s advantage.
Q: Are you disappointed by the Law Society?s negotiation with the Ministry of Justice? What do you see as the best outcome as a result of the next consultation?
A: I?m very disappointed. They have agreed a two-tier contract approach with the MoJ. There are going to be only 570 duty solicitor contracts across the whole country. This means that the vast majority of firms are going to be in real difficulty because they are only going to be able to do their own client work and they are going to have to suffer a decrease in fees of at least 17.5% (spread over two years) when they are already at rock-bottom prices.
Every single practitioner group, meeting regularly with the Law Society, was opposed to the two-tier idea. Yet the Law Society went ahead and agreed it and did so without telling us. I also think that the Law Society are not going to find the negotiations easy because they are going into them with their hands tied behind their back.
The idea of firms joining in consortia does not work on the model suggested by the MoJ. The LCCSA met the members about this and conducted two surveys and the feedback is that, if we have to have consortia and consolidation, it needs to happen slowly so that people have got the opportunity to plan for it. And it needs to happen without the (at least) 17.5% cuts.
What we need is a proper enquiry into the entirety of the criminal justice system. Everybody would accept that there is waste at almost every stage: prisoners not being taken to court in time, CPS not having their papers, solicitors attending prisonvisits only to find that prisoners have been moved - the list is endless. Of course savings should be made but they don?t have to be made by cutting us. Simply attacking legal aid is the easyoption because it?s what the Daily Mail readers want to see. It makes me so angry. It?s so short-sighted: unrepresented people will mean longer trials; it?s a false economy. And justice is a fundamental pillar of our society. To attack it in this way is just awful - because, once you let it go, it will take a very long time to get it back.
Q: Look into your crystal ball and tell me what will be the situation in London in two year?s time.
A: If there must be change, I would hope that the damage is going to be as little as possible. London is different from the rest of the country for all sorts of reasons, such as diversity, travel issues and the fact that it is the seat of government. London needs special consideration. We on the committee made a specific point of reporting to the Justice Select Committee on the differences between London and the rest of the country and we also gave our paper on that to the Law Society to discuss with the Ministry of Justice.
Q: Do you think that the criminal justice community will continue to pull together in the way it has been doing over the past year?
A: I think the community has to stick together: it hasn?t got a choice. Together, we?ve been extremely effective. One of the successes of the PCT consultation, unforeseen by government, is that it brought the Bar and solicitors closer than we have been for many years. I hope that I will be able to work closely with the new chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Nigel Lithman.
Q: Tell me about Kingsley Napley, the size and spread of the firm, what sort of law do you do personally and the history of your employment there.
A: About 270 people work for KN and its only office is in central London. There are 11 practice areas and what?s great about the firm is that it is full service, from clinical negligence to company commercial.
What is unusual about KN and a firm of our size is that the flagship department is the criminal one.
I joined in 2003 and became a partner in 2008. I do general crime and regulatory and professional discipline work. I?m also the trainee principal so I?m responsible for the trainees once they are with us and the entire recruitment process. And I?m on the out-of- hours rota.
Q: Do you feel a tension between working for one of the largest law firms and the role of LCCSA president?
A: I don?t think there is one at all. I?m going to be the fifth KN president of the LCCSA. The firm has always been a big supporter of the association: the committee meetings are held at our office, we always take tables at the dinner and we always go to the conference. I accept that we don?t do much legal aid work but, where that needs to be dealt with, I will have a fantastic team on the committee to advise me. Current times aside, we have to be careful that the LCCSA is not just a body worrying about legal aid.
The association is about a variety of issues affecting criminal solicitors in London.
Q: Are there any other challenges on the horizon this year?
A: Of course. Firstly, declining volumes - and that affects everybody, whether you are doing legal aid work or not. There have been natural changes to the system and the irony is that the government has ignored this fact.
Let?s hope we can work with the Bar to see the end of QASA and I hope the issue of plea-only advocates doesn?t become divisive.
And then there?s digital working. In a few years time, there will be no such thing as paper in our working day and I think that is going to be a really difficult transition for lawyers, a huge culture shift. Practically, it?s going to be expensive as well. It?s going to be especially tricky if you can?t take a computer into prison!
Q: Do you have plans for the association this year?
A:Weneedtogetbetteratsingingourownpraises.Wehavebeenphenomenalduringthisconsultationprocess:ourrallycaughttheimaginationofthepressand they are still using those images. The package we offer is fantastic: for £75 you get your ID card, your 16 CPD points, regular editions of the wonderful Advocate, as well as the representation of the profession. We need to get out there and get new members.
We are also going to seek sponsorship for the association. (Are there any readers who would like to sponsor us?)
Q: What was your career previous to KN? What led you to become a lawyer?
A: I trained at Ormerods, a high street firm in Croydon, joined TV Edwards, where I was a duty solicitor, in 1999 and came to KN in 2003. I did work experience at Ormerods when I was 15 and, the minute I walked into a magistrates? court, I was hooked. I went back to Ormerods every summer, did law at Warwick University and then went to Guildford. I took a year off to go travelling and, before doing so, I worked during the Christmas season in the gift department in John Lewis. It was fantastic. If I wasn?t doing this I?d go and work there again - or maybe I?d be a beautician.
Q: Do you have any interests outside the law?
A: I was married in January. We have a four-year-old daughter and my husband has got two much older children who we are lucky enough to spend lots of time with. My daughter?s life is so hectic that there really is not much time for outside interests. I enjoy keeping fit and I know it?s really shallow but I love shopping. What I?d really like to do is to hold the annual conference at Bluewater but no one else seems very keen.