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As I write this, we are on the eve of the next general election. Legislative changes made by our government directly impact the legal profession and with unprecedented cuts in government expenditure for civil and criminal justice, particularly over the last couple of years, we have to wonder whether the next government will redress the situation.
In 2010, the civil and criminal justice system was costing us £2bn per annum, today, following the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), it stands at £1.5bn. Whilst this may sound a lot, when compared to the £133bn cash outlay made by the government to bail out the banks during the financial crisis (not to mention the £1029bn government support to banks through the provision of guarantees and non-cash support) it starts to put it in some sort of perspective. Granted the majority of this money should come back to us but the true cost is still likely to be in the high multi billion pound sphere and whilst this action has helped stabilise our economy, I can’t help wondering whether the c. £500million cuts to legal aid could have been avoided through accessing fund in other areas.
As legal recruiters we have witnessed a huge decline in opportunities for those practising in civil and criminal law and when you look at the figures it is evident why…
Funding for family law cases has dropped by 60%, debt cases fell from 81792 in 2012-2013 to 2423 in 2013-2014, clinical negligence cases fell from 2859 to 114 for the same period. The criminal legal aid budget delivered a further blow to criminal lawyers with the effect of reducing criminal legal aid contracts; access to justice at present is clearly severely hindered. Legally aided employment cases fell from 16154 to 6 due to the increase in employment tribunal fees so employees without deep pockets are now at a huge disadvantage when it comes to tackling unscrupulous employers. The knock on effect of all this for lawyers is less work and a rapidly declining talent pool of civil and criminal lawyers as some are forced to leave the legal profession. New entrants to the legal market are also likely to focus away from civil and criminal practice for the safer option of pursuing more commercial or property related disciplines.
Whilst legal aid has been cut, the government has done a lot to help home buyers, house builders, businesses and banks and as a consequence the job market for lawyers in real estate, conveyancing, construction, commercial, corporate and banking is booming!
Alternative business structures have also opened the legal market wide open allowing non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms and thereby enabling equity to be raised from a far broader base outside of the legal sector. This has also created more opportunities for lawyers.
With such a direct effective on the legal market, it will be interesting to see the result of tomorrow’s election and how the decisions of the next government will affect all of you that work within the law.