This town is looking like a Ghost town
During the saga over PCT and two tiers, the government made no attempt to hide the agenda based upon cuts and consolidation. Consolidate and cut, allowing volume will take away the pain as they slashed legal aid rates; reduce the market and then we have less completion for a declining volume of cases.
When the new contracts were designed, it was on the premise that the provisions of the contract would be substantially more onerous so that many of the providers that had indicated an intention to tender would be frightened off. If any firm now without a multi layered administration structure was not spooked by the new contract terms on offer then the LAA will make sure that they are haunted by the army of flesh eating contract managers filling in boxes with toxic contract notices.
The exorcism of the ghosts has created a graveyard as innocent casualties of this purge have been slain. Few have ever justified the existence of non-practicing criminal defence lawyers on the rotas. Remove them from the rota and then there is a fairer distribution of slots. Unfortunately what is now known as the 14 hour rule has meant that carers ( single parents without extended family nearby to help ) , part time workers , the semi-retired are all being forced out of the criminal defence community . They are the victims of unfriendly fire are not nor have ever been ghosts. They are experienced hard working professionals who support firms who would otherwise find it uneconomic to send staff to cover s single court hearing, provide relief where needed but are now not renewing practicing certificates and in some cases are leaving the law entirely. .
Whilst we lament the lack of youth coming through our profession, the current state of legal aid is such that ghost busting which ghoulishly hounds out those who want the freedom to work outside the traditional 9-5 routine is not going to encourage quality new entrants into the profession .
Trick or treat?
Reducing the rotas by getting rid of (non ghost) part timers is not going to suddenly create an abundance of work and increase in volume. Gone are the days when firms can afford to be dependent upon work from duty solicitor schemes as a basis for running a practice, but without the invaluable support of freelance and part time staff coupled with punitive contract notices, we begin to see the endgame of the LAA when designing the post TT contract.
The proposed cap on PPE is an interesting one, but nevertheless fits into the general picture. Viewed In a vacuum, for lawyers to throw hands up in the air at the loss of payment for an abstract 4,000 pages is not an attractive one. However the LAA fail to acknowledge that the fees payable for the cases where page counts are as few as 30-40, make it uneconomical, and even the Law Society has sanctioned the profession’s right not to carry out such work. The LAA know that in many cases the larger cases are not being used to buy top of the range Skoda’s but simply ensure that our doors are open for the cases which require substantial hours for limited reward.
The end game? The closure of the smaller firms who cannot afford to process these cases and the end of the traditional Big firm who depend on the profit from the big page count cases to make up for the losses of most smaller LGF cases. From the flames will rise the PDS operating from a call centre; and as the SRA recently announced support for the “uberisation” of the profession, solicitors will be racing further to the bottom as salaries and fees are lowered.
In every town centre there is a central hub where deliveroo drivers wait on their bikes to be called.
Imagine for a moment in 2021 under the new contracts. Police interviews are conducted on street corners, lawful as long as they are recorded on Body Worn Cameras. Homelessness is at such levels that both custody suites in London would resemble Crisis at Christmas on 25th December. The defence community won a concession to retain the right to legal advice even during such interviews. With the resources to continue to work under the cut price litigator fees and having not received any contract notices during the last contract, The Public Defenders Service, with its head office on floor 7 of 3 Petty France (between LAA and CPS), is the sole winner of a contract to provide on street advice via their army of Uber Advisers who sit in branches of Costa. . There is no longer any 14 hour requirement as there is no longer a police station duty solicitor rota, there is only one provider on the rota.
As we see an increasing propensity for police officers to process suspects during the early hours there will be no independent lawyers remaining to serve the graveyard shift. The police unfettered as they were pre Pace with incurious or even worse hostile courts happy to process the defendant on their way to prison.
Do you remember the good old days before the Ghost town?
Jonathan Black BSB Solicitors