Tuesday Truth – 16th January 2017

PUBLISHED January 17, 2017

The Tuesday Truth          16th January 2017

Today is the third Tuesday of 2017 – are we worrying about how we will make our pay last until the end of the month, are we worrying about how we will improve our service to clients now it’s a new year, are we worrying about what CPD we should be doing now we’re not doing CPD any more? No, we’re worrying about how, from the start of the new criminal contract in April we will not only do the 14 hours per week on criminal contract work but how we will demonstrate it and ….oh hang on, what is contract work?
The people that submitted your CRM12 by midnight on Friday 13th (the date is not lost on us) signed a declaration that they would make sure that everyone that was duty solicitor in their firm and therefore will be given a duty solicitor slot on the new rotas to run from April to July 2017 will undertake 14 hours per week minimum of criminal contract work, calculated on a rolling monthly basis i.e. 56 hours every 4 weeks.
For those of you working in a busy Magistrates Court or police station department this will not prove much of a problem, but not all are happy with the requirement and here’s some who may find it difficult to reach those ‘prima facie’ (oh for the days when we were allowed to use Latin instead of counting numbers and pouring over contract sub clauses) fairly minimal evidence requirements.

  • What about the freelancers who might do 6 or 7 police station appearances or Magistrates Court appearances every week – but can they show that 14 hours of that is for the firm they’re duty is attached to or do they work for lots of different firms?
  • What for the people working part time, perhaps because they have child care commitments or because they’ve decided to slide gently into that blissful state of retirement? To undertake 2 solid days per week of work won’t be that easy. Is it discriminatory against women who decide to stay at home and care for young children or is it just making sure that to keep your status you have to do a certain amount of work?
  • What for the small firm – the solicitor may be very good but not have very much work; is the test to be a duty solicitor a numbers game, or is it more a competence that can be judged by another means?
  • What for the new firm? – Does the new start up solicitor, branched off from the big firm, have to take their work with them to ensure they still have that magic 14 hours work when they start - do they need the duty to build up the work or shouldn’t they be duty unless they can show they have enough own client work first?

The LCCSA opposed the introduction of the 14 hours and put forward alternative ideas for ensuring that ghosts were kept in their shadowy rooms away from rotas that needed to be filled with active, and all would agree competent and knowledgeable duty solicitors.
BUT, the 14 hours rule IS in the contract and will be implemented.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, what is contract work? It seems that it is all criminal casework, so will include phone calls, travel (maybe finally there’s an advantage to living on a South Eastern train route), waiting, advocacy in the Magistrates Court (but query whether in the Crown Court – although the initial indication was that it would be included ), letters, preparation, etc etc. Yes, just when you thought fixed fees meant that it really didn’t matter if you didn’t record every little detail scrupulously because you’re never going to triple the fixed fee and get out that CRM7, your good old time recording skills need to be dusted off to ensure that your 14 hours is properly recorded.
It’s worth remembering those heady days of police station representation when every routine call incurred a fee and every advice and assistance call a bigger one. Those calls all still count on hourly rates. And remember that in time recording terms, every call is a 6 minute unit. Every letter is a 6 minute unit….call from the DSCC, call to the police (they’re busy and want you to call back), attempts to call they’re not picking up (20 minutes), call from the brother as to what’s going on, call from the Dad about him going as appropriate adult, call to the police station you give your details but they’re too busy to get the client out, call back because they haven’t called back, call back again because they haven’t called back again, ADVICE CALL, call to speak to the custody sergeant to tell them there’s an issue with lack of calls, call to the OIC to let them know your timescales, call to the OIC as still haven’t heard you’re ready, call to the Dad to confirm you’ve spoken to the son to let him know when the interview will be, call from the OIC to say he’ll be ready in – oh that’s lucky 45 minutes – call to the Dad to say meet there in 45 minutes, call from the brother to say the Dad will be more like 60 minutes, call from the client to find out what’s happening, call to the Custody Suite to say you’ll be 45 minutes, …..
write it all down, get it recorded. Because you can bet your bottom dollar (or rupee if you can find one) that the LAA will ask for records on audit of your time recording to demonstrate those 14 hours.
It’s a rule that’s crept in, puts yet another burden on all duty solicitors that we could do without – but as the old saying goes, unfortunately, he who pays the piper, calls the tune.
By Barbara Hecht
Principal at Hecht Montgomery Solicitors hechtmontgomery.co.uk