We all know that crime doesn’t pay, but it seems it really doesn’t pay anyone in the legal world anymore. I have been in legal recruitment for nearly 15 years, for 90% of my career I have always seen a good selection of criminal solicitor vacancies across the Midlands region. As things stand the recruitment market for crime is pretty much non existent. The knock on effect of the MoJ’s criminal aid proposals in respect to fee reductions, flat fees in magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court, and a single national fixed fee for police station work have pretty much killed off career enhancing opportunities for criminal solicitors. This week we saw Barristers withdraw labour and courts fell silent for the first time in centuries over legal aid cuts http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/courts-hit-as-lawyers-stage-unprecedented-national-walkout-over-legal-aid-cuts
The concern across the country seems to be that lawyers feel misrepresented and seen as ‘fat cats’. The criminal solicitors that I have come across in my legal recruitment career are certainly far from being highly paid. In fact salary scales for criminal lawyers in comparison to other areas of private client law are quite low and always have been. I have not seen criminal practices milking the public purse, in my experience of negotiating offers for criminal lawyers (this hasn’t happened recently I hasten to add) is that offers have been low and certainly not over exuberant! I can’t comment on barrister salaries as I have never really focused on this area, however it would seem that if you are a barrister by trade, people seem to assume that you are on a 6 figure salary and public opinion is that barristers are all over paid and very wealthy. I have no doubt that there are barristers on more than £100,000 a year but it’s not true to say all are at this level. I would take up to £70,000 off this figure as a national average.
The cuts will certainly affect the way the courts work and how cases are managed, cases may not be given the time they need and are done on the cheap by very low paid lawyers without the experience to represent clients adequately. Would we see miscarriages of justice increase? I’m not sure. What I do envisage happening is a continuation of the theme over the last 1-2 years with fewer law firms housing a specialist criminal practice as they can no longer make a profit (law firms have to make money I’m afraid, commercial reality seems to get forgotten whenever lawyers salaries are in the public spotlight). We will still have firms practicing criminal law but in order to make it pay they will need to continue to be creative in terms of financing their departments.