Family Justice Under Threat

I want to publicise the disastrous proposals to swipe legal aid in family cases. Not just because it will hurt my pocket, but because it is going to have long term and serious consequences for the families who most need the help of the family justice system, which I do not think government, the LSC, lawyers or the public at large fully appreciate. I cannot stress enough for the skeptics out there amongst you that this post is about access to justice and the promotion of family life, not just about fat cat lawyers. PLEASE read the whole of this post (sorry it is long) and let anyone you can know what you think. Please respond to the consultation even if you are not a lawyer.

The family justice system is already under considerable pressure (an understatement – it is already fraying at the edges if not coming apart at the seams):

  • CAFCASS are underfunded and taking up to 8 months to prepare reports. They have inadequate resources to undertake their core work let alone to facilitate the newly implemented contact activities and enforcement orders.
  • Court budgets are being cut. There are not enough judges to deal with cases promptly because they cannot be paid (e.g. 2 months to list an urgent contested interim residence hearing because the local court had overspent 44 judge days).
  • Solicitors are demoralised as they have been absorbing cuts in their pay for years and for many this work is no longer viable and they are closing their doors to publicly funded clients.
  • Public funding is more and more tightly controlled and there is already an increase in litigants in person which itself puts added strain on the system (more court time, less negotiation and consensual resolution)
  • Social workers are demoralised and local authorities are fire fighting. Resource limitations mean they are often reluctant to provide support and assistance to families or the courts

The reason that the system still functions at all is that those who remain are extraordinarily committed and work really hard to find creative solutions to the difficulties in the system. We spend a considerable proprortion of our time finding the least unsatisfactory interim solutions to tide parties over until the court can actually deal with their urgent problem. It’s prejudicial and unfair to parties and damaging for children.

It is still the general view that family barristers do ok and that – by virtue of the fact that we are barristers – we are paid very highly. This is not actually the case. In any event I don’t want to complain about what we are paid – I want to let people know just how much our pay is going to be cut and what consequences will trickle through the system as a result of that and a thousand other tiny cuts.

Let me summarise the proposals contained in the consultation insofar as they are relevant for this post:

  • Significant cuts to the amount spent on family cases overall
  • Cuts to come from private law and financial cases only i.e. disputes between divorcing couples about finances and property and disputes between parents about children – care cases are not affected as this is too politically sensitive, therefore cuts which may otherwise have been spread across the board are being disproportionately made to these types of cases
  • Real terms cuts to the amount paid for barristers’ work of approximately 50% overall and as much as 75% in more complex disputes, equating to approximate hourly rates of £27 – £35 per hour before expenses, which as a rule of thumb are likely to amount to 30% and tax. And this for working long and antisocial hours in a highly skilled profession which requires us to undertake ongoing legal research and skill updating throughout the year.
  • A ‘flattening’ of the payment system so that the scheme is less responsive to complexity – hence the disproportionately high cuts of c75% in the cases that require the most time, committment and expertise
  • fixed fees for interim and final hearings, which make final hearings extremely unattractive as they require far more preparation and work but do not attract significantly more money
  • even lower fees per hearing where there are more than 5 interim hearings, again reducing pay in complex cases

Firstly:

Why would anyone enter into this area of the profession at great expense (5 years training and £40,000 average debts by the end of pupillage) when it is clear that the levels of pay are going to be so low? If I was coming up now I’d go into another area of law and that is what I tell anyone in training to do when I meet them.

Secondly:

How can those of us who are already at the family bar absorb a pay cut of 50%? How do we pay our mortgages, how do we make an equitable contribution to the expenses of chambers? We might be committed to publicly funded work and to ensuring that clients in need are able to obtain quality representation but we cannot do it if we cannot make it pay.

Why does it matter? You might think I am taking a protectionist attitude, singing the praises of the bar’s ‘specialness’ when in fact solicitors could simply absorb the work – and this is plainly the view of the LSC and to some extent solicitors. But if you took such a simplistic view of things you would be wrong. There is considerable overlap between the work that is and can be carried out by both solicitors and barristers in family work (and in appropriate cases legal execs). But the LSC can’t have it both ways. Although they are pretty clear in expressing their view in the consultation document that there are more family barristers than are necessary and are prepared through these proposed changes to effectively ‘cull’ the family bar – they appear not to appreciate that if there is no work or insufficient work to make practice at the junior end of the profession viable then there will come a time when there is insufficient expertise in the system as a whole to ensure that counsel can be instructed in complex cases that require them. We won’t be there. We won’t be learning and developing our skills and acquiring the expertise that only comes through experience – because there won’t be any viable way of doing so. And who then will represent the parents who desperately need a highly skilled and independent advocate?

And it is foolish to assume that solicitors can pick up the slack – ‘juslikethat’. In many cases they already undertake their own advocacy and do a fine job of it too. But not only do many solicitors not want to undertake their own advocacy, some are unsuited to it (great solicitors are not necessarily great advocates), and most are too busy managing a case load of clients to attend all or any hearings, and in fact there are business reasons why it would not be cost effective.

Solicitors will always need to have access to a pool of independent advocates to undertake work they are unable to deal with themselves either because of other commitments or because they are not advocates. And they will always need to have access to a pool of independent specialist advocates to deal with the most difficult or sensitive of cases – some cases require people skilled in family advocacy rather than family law as a whole.

The LSC appears to think that solicitors should simply bring all their advocacy in house. But this would require the recruitment of numerous additional employees, with all the associated on-costs (tax, NI etc), and other expenses currently paid for by counsel out of their legal aid remuneration (training costs, legal library / resources, travel costs, office overheads, indemnity insurance…). And of course associated with bringing advocacy in house is the inevitable bringing in-house of risk – currently contracted out to the independent bar through their indemnity insurance. Although firms may be able to absorb a proportion of the advocacy work with existing staff they would undoubtedly need to employ specialist qualified advocates at appropriate salaries – for larger firms I should think the additional costs and risk would be unattractive, for smaller firms this would simply be untenable.

Of course the LSC view is also that there should be less, bigger solicitors firms and so in their view of the future the economies of scale would allow for the employment of specialist advocates in house. But there are many reasons why the legal aid landscape needs a diverse spread and range of solicitors able to take on family work, including a number of firms in any one geographical area. Particularly in family cases where there can be as many as half a dozen parties all requiring representation independent of one another it is essential in order to ensure access to justice that there are enough legal aid firms to take on the work. Five solicitors firms in one area (this is what is proposed by the LSC although I have no idea what an area is) is NOT ENOUGH to ensure that all parties are represented, not least because a solicitor would have a conflict if they had previously represented a family member in another family dispute. In care cases this is particularly likely.

So what do I think will happen if these cuts are implemented?

People will leave the family bar. I may well leave. I love my job, and I am committed to helping people get through their family problems. Children, parents, grandparents deserve and need skilled and committed representatives regardless of their means. I will stay if I can, but if I cannot pay my mortgage I will find something else to do. Like others, if I can find enough other work (i.e. privately paying work) to offset the cuts I will, but realistically this will be very difficult – particularly for children work specialists. There are only so many hearings that can be packed into one week.

The people who stay may not be the best. The quality of representation may well go down. The selection of advocates will be more limited. Healthy competition will be reduced.

The people who stay will be demoralised. They will stop giving that little bit extra. The drafting of case summaries, chronologies or other documents prior to heairng, the making of enquiries or telephone calls at court, the calls to our solicitors suggesting this or that, the staying at court until whatever time is necessary to finish the case, the typing up of orders for the court (a professional courtesy we don’t get paid for), the provision of thorough attendance notes for solicitors, the provision of free lectures and seminars for solicitors…More importantly the thoroughness of preparation, the level of thought that goes into finding creative solutions. I hate to suggest that anyone at the bar would get sloppy or provide anything less than an excellent service but I think in reality something has to give at some point. We are professionals but I think that the more that the world at large forgets that the more individual members of that profession are likely to forget it too.

It will probably be harder to find representation for final hearings, since they are far less well paid – everyone will want to fill their diary with interim hearings and we will be entitled to refuse to undertake the most unattractive cases (i.e. the complex ones or the ones with a lot of paperwork to read) because the cab rank rule does not apply. There will be a disincentive to bring matters to a final resolution. People will go unrepresented or will have inadequate representation and individual hearings will run longer…and cases will run longer…and the system will slow down even more…and people will get more demoralised…and more people will leave…and – you get the picture.

So who will suffer? Not just my family (although I’m surely concerned to make sure I can provide for them), but families up and down the country. And at some stage when it’s all unravelled and there has been an exodus of expertise from the family bar, the government / the LSC will realise its mistake. I don’t hold out much hope in the current economic climate that the LSC / the government will see the long term folly of its proposals, but I damn well want to make sure that they cannot say they were not told.

Please comment on this post if you have any useful contribution to make. Please respond to the consultation before 13 March 2009. If you are a lawyer please attend one of the consultation meetings and tell the LSC direct what you think. Please tell as many people as you can about the cuts. This is not just a ‘save the barrister’ campaign – it runs deeper than that.

27 thoughts on “Family Justice Under Threat

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Legal Aid for family cases continues to be sqeezed and fewer and fewer people are able to afford appropriate representation.

    As a solicitor dealing with family cases, I prefer to do the bulk of my adviocacy myself, but there are times when this simply isn’t practical, lengthy final hearings being the obvious example. Often, if isn’t either practical or cost effective to take the time out of the office needed to prepare and deal with such a hearing. In practice, I now very rarely take on Legal Aid cases (except Care work) – the payment structure makes no distinction based on levels of expertise or experience so it makes no sense for me to carry out the work

    As for Legally Aided work in general, more and more solicitors are giving it up as it makes no sense from a commercial point of view. When I first moved to my current firm, 7 years ago, we were one of 5 firms in the town where I then worked, all offering legal aid for family cases, and 3 of which aslo offered legal aid for criminal cases. Now, only 2 firms in that town (of which mine is one) offer family legal aid, and the nearest firm offereing criminal legal aid is over 20 miles away.

    I now work at a different branch in a different town. Theer are 3 solicitors firmas in this town, all offer family work, none offer legal aid (I personally take on Care cases, and will continue to act for existing clients who become eligable, but new cases are referred to our sister office)

    We frequently have to send people away due to conflicts of interest, which means that people who are already (by definition, if they fall within eligibility for Legal Aid) struggling finacially, have to travel further.

    My firm is one of those still offering legal aid but we are only able to do so by channelling the majority of non-care legal aid work to the most junior member of the department, and are giving serious consideration to giving up legal aid work altogether.

    There is a noticable increase in Litigants in Person which of course adds to delay and to costs for the party who has representation (I recently dealt with a final hearing in a contact case where the other party was a LIP – although my client was the Respondent and paying privately she ended up nnbearing the costs of the prepartion of the bundle etc, not to mention a contested final hearing which should never have been necessary.)

    I find the ‘economies of scale’ arguament from the LSC bizarre. Setting aside the fact that most people would prefer to see a local solicitor rather than travelling to the nearest city to see someone at a ‘megafirm’, and that for many of the most vulnerable theadditional difficulty of getting to a firm which is 20 miles away instead of one which is 5 miles away amy well make the difference between feeling able to instruct a solicititor and beong unable to do so, I cannot see that instructing an in-house advicate is likely to be any cheaper than instructing outside counsel. If the in-house advocate is not the persona with day to day conduct of the file, they will need to spend just the same amount of time familiarising themslves with the case, the primary case worker will need to prepare a summary or brief in the same way. The only way that this will be cheaper is if one assumes that there is an overall saving of over heads becasue the slicitors firm is ‘already there’, paying rent etc. Of course, it will be cheaper to the LSC becasue those additional overheads will be absorbed by the solicitor…..

    Certainly, from a business perspective if as a firm we have to chose between taking on additional staff as in house advocates, and giving up Legal Aid work altogether, there is no doubt at all as to which we would do.

  2. Though I know very little about Family Law, even I can see that the proposed reforms are nothing short of absolutely apalling on every single level.

    The Government has been busy obsessively chucking BILLIONS at/to/into the yawning black hole which is financial sector, probably on the basis that it is part of the fundemental infrastructure of society, an attitude fundementally filled with wrongness . Family issues are evidently not that important even though the self same is undoubtedly the most valuable and the most basic building brick of society, so how about investing some of those easily printable BILLIONS into Family Services before it goes the expendable way of the rest of the country?!
    ( we’ll all be ok though; families may be torn to pieces and children screwed up for the rest of their lives, but we will all still have private banks to go to who wont lend any of us any money and foreclose early on our mortages.)

  3. PS: Access to Justice? ( of ANY sort?!)
    My EYE.

  4. Good post. I’m not a Family Lawyer – but shall give post as much publicity as my limited resources permit and encourage others to do the same.

  5. It’s a horrible scenario with the government being held at financial gun point and taking the Bar as hostage.

    The proposals are very intricate and although it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, filling out the online questionnaire may be one of the most powerful ways of showing the LSC that it would be a mistake to re-arrange the costs the way they are proposing.

    I have filled in the form, but be prepared – it can’t be done without reading the consultation paper and it’s 92 pages plus long.

    Good luck and I hope that there is a solution that both preserves the Bar and gives parties the chance to access help at a time in their lives when they need it most.

  6. I might be being cynical, but it strikes me that the whole point of killing off the junior end of the profession in Criminal, and now in family law is deliberate.
    I was listening to someone talking about what is happening in the Criminal bar, and they were saying where I live there is no [or very little] Mags work or bottom end Crown court work. Therefore it seems new barristers won’t get experience. It struck me that in 5 – 10 years time there is going to be a real shortage of experienced barristers in the Crown court.

    The theory that the government doesn’t want barristers (however unfounded it may be) doing legal aid work etc becomes slightly more credibility.

    As I said, I might be being very cynical!

  7. […] 12, 2009 by familoo Further to yesterday’s post about the cuts in legal aid proposed for 2010, confirmation arrives of the long inevitable interim […]

  8. Looks like blatant self protection and whining to me!

    How much do you earn Familoo you went around the houses a bit?

    Anyone with half a brain cell (who’s financial interests are not linked to Family Law) understands it is due for reform.

    • @jonathan about 40% of any non-family barrister, less than most other professionals and many tradespersons. and it’s taken me this long to pay off the debts I ran up getting qualified. We don’t do it for the money (there are far easier and more pleasant ways to earn money), but we do need to earn enough to make it work as a source of income.

  9. […] 12, 2009 by familoo Further to my previous 2 posts on legal aid reform in family cases which are here and here the Family Law Bar Association has issued the following press […]

  10. […] Pink Tape: Family Justice Under Threat I want to publicise the disastrous proposals to swipe legal aid in family cases. Not just because it will hurt my pocket, but because it is going to have long term and serious consequences for the families who most need the help of the family justice system, which I do not think government, the LSC, lawyers or the public at large fully appreciate. I cannot stress enough for the skeptics out there amongst you that this post is about access to justice and the promotion of family life, not just about fat cat lawyers. More… […]

  11. Curiously (as a fathers’ rights campaigner) I sympathise, having just taken a 27% cut in pay myself (I work in FE).

    We don’t advise fathers to use solicitors and barristers and believe they can often achieve better outcomes representing themselves with a good McKenzie. We agree with Munby’s view of LIPs: “What you are getting is the facts as they see it without the assistance – and some people might put the word in inverted commas – of lawyers”.

    Nevertheless, I can quite see that the current foolhardy policy of slash-and-burn is not the way to resolve the crisis in family justice and will only make matters worse.

    The system desperately needs reform and sensible, constructive ways have been suggested of doing this – I’d recommend Munby’s judgement in Re D [2004] as a good place for ministers to start, or Liz Trinder’s report on conciliation.

    Finally I’d plug my own modest contribution to the problem, which is a guide for LIPs available on the internet as a PDF. I would point out that I won’t make a penny from this, despite the 3 years of work and not inconsiderable expenses – not least a new bookcase to take my growing library of books on family law.

    There is obviously a danger when amateurs get involved in such a complex area, and I recognise the responsibility of giving advice which if wrong can destroy families and lives. Those of us who have been through the system recognise an obligation to help others, and any advice is given with suitable caveats; it is also, of course, a way to exocise demons.

  12. @jonathan about 40% of any non-family barrister, less than most other professionals and many tradespersons. and it’s taken me this long to pay off the debts I ran up getting qualified. We don’t do it for the money (there are far easier and more pleasant ways to earn money), but we do need to earn enough to make it work as a source of income.

    Familoo – I have heard it all before Family Law is the poor relation and you have put a few years study in.

    “We don’t do it for the money” – I take it you are refering collectively to every legal professional who practices Family Law, and suggesting that they all have a higher noble cause? I must say that does not strike me as very likely.

    Everyone needs a source of income what a tradesperson earns is dictated by market forces, and a lot of them are suffering financially at the moment.

    Practicing Family Law should not be a blank cheque book,
    If your income drops you have the same choices as anyone else who works for a living.

    These reforms are long overdue and a step in the right direction.

    In my opinion your blog is no more than thinly veiled protectionism.

    Jonathan

    • @jonathan
      Deep breath – I don’t suppose I’m going to persuade you of my point of view but for what it’s worth I feel driven to respond: we ALL have to work ‘for the money’ – but it’s not incompatible with also wanting to give something back to society. One does not have to be earning below the minimum wage in order to be altruistic or community minded (or whatever you want to call it). Most of us need paid employment and some of us choose a job that enables us to both earn money and do some good. I’m not trying to avoid market forces – the market rate for the work we do is already considerably higher than the amount we are paid by the LSC for legally aided work – privately paying clients effectively subsidise the publicly funded clients. I could stop complaining and go and do something else or only take privately paying clients, but I believe in the principle of access to justice and that it is important that parents / parties are represented regardless of means. I accept that there is not a bottomless pit of money for legal aid and cuts are probably inevitable but these cuts are damaging to the viability of the publicly funded family bar and damaging to the ability of the system to ensure access to justice for those who most need representation. If a desire to earn enough to afford to continue this work for the benefit of myself and my clients is protectionism so be it.

  13. […] Pink Tape: Family Justice Under Threat I want to publicise the disastrous proposals to swipe legal aid in family cases. Not just because it will hurt my pocket, but because it is going to have long term and serious consequences for the families who most need the help of the family justice system, which I do not think government, the LSC, lawyers or the public at large fully appreciate. I cannot stress enough for the skeptics out there amongst you that this post is about access to justice and the promotion of family life, not just about fat cat lawyers. More… […]

  14. Familoo

    I don’t dispute we all need to earn a living and some employment can lend itself to public service, however your argument “we don’t do it for the money” seems to make a collective assertion that all Family Law legal Professionals are all primarily serving a nobler cause and the income gererated is secondary/irrelevant. I would ask how on earth can you make such a sweeping generalisation about everyone who works in Family Law.

    It is obvious that a Law Firm is not subject to the same market forces as outside industry and again in my opinion based on my experience and observations there is clearly protectionism at play with charging structures, recruitment and client capture/entrapment etc.
    “privately paying clients effectively subsidise the publicly funded clients” or put another way overcharge one group of Clients to offset your losses against another.

    Either by accident or design Family Law has become an extremely effective mechanism which allows two legal professionals to exploit a comfortable living from vulnerable individuals, anything that tightens this up is welcome news.

    • No we’re not all saints or anything. Clearly some are more financially motivated than others – generally though I think those who are more financially driven are doing other areas of work which are privately paying, or at least a higher proportion of it. You mention firms – not wishing to be a pedant but barristers do not work as part of a firm – we are self employed sole traders and responsible for our own overheads and expenses, pensions, etc and no paid time off, maternity leave etc etc. We bear a lot of risk which is what makes us cost effective. As for exploitation, although you won’t agree, I feel pretty exploited by the whole funding situation – the LSC is banking on us being committed to the job and the clients and to the professional ethic no matter what cuts they make.

  15. Familoo
    Thank you for the reply the debate is becoming a bit circular so I think I will sign off.

    I understand your point about Barristers, maybe they should be more accessable?

    Jonathan

    • Point taken – bloody barristers always have to have the last word. It’s compulsive behaviour.
      As for accessibility we are presently prohibited from undertaking direct access work in most family cases, probably for good reason in many respects.
      Ciao.

  16. Familoo
    Out of curiosity what are the good reasons? Why can you not access a Barrister directly?

    • Hi Jonathan,

      There are a few reasons. I have five mins to give you a ‘back of a fag packet response’:

      You can now access a barrister directly in many cases under the direct / public access scheme, but by and large it does not apply to family cases. The general reasons for not allowing free access to barristers as I understand them are because of our slimline ‘self-employed sole trader’ kind of set up we are not set up for handling client funds or dealing with correspondence etc (and are prohibited from handling litigation) – the administrative set up is simply not there. We don’t keep records in the same way that would be necessary if handling correspondence and we are out at court an unable to respond to urgent correspondence etc in the way that a solicitor set up could. Solicitors do perform quite distinct functions from barristers – although there is overlap where it comes to advocacy and advice the litigation side of things is solicitor only. The bar are specialists in advocacy and advice.

      Generally the public access scheme does not permit us to take instructions direct where there are likely to be substantial issues of fact or lots of contested evidence – we are not in a position to be gathering or putting together evidence or bundles etc and our independence as advocates would be compromised if we performed that role (even if it were practically possible for us to do, which it isn’t). In that type of case there needs to be someone to get the case up and running and that person really needs to be a solicitor rather than the lay client herself.

      In family cases there is an almost outright bar. I think it is largely because all the reasons I have gone through above apply particularly to family cases where there are very sensitive issues of fact, a particular need for advocates to remain independent from the information gathering exercise, and a need for prompt responses to correspondence (for example about last minute crises about contact), to continuously advise the client as things progress and to prepare the case on paper prior to a hearing. Solicitors perform a crucial role in all this as do barristers. I think the bar council have taken the view that in the majority of cases there would be too much scope for things to go wrong for the client, and for the barrister in terms of compromise to professional standards or encouragement to undertake litigation which (would be professional misconduct).

      Hope that helps. It’s not an exhaustive response. Maybe I should do a blog post about it when I have more time…

  17. Thank you.

  18. Dear Familoo,

    I am a barrister practising in family law in the North East. I just wanted to say how reassuring I found your blog on ‘family justice under threat’ and your subsequent blog speculating as to possible alternative careers!

    Your thoughts almost precisely echo those of myself and other barristers at my chambers.

    There is a terrible sense of inevitability about it all – even having agreed to extend the LSC consultation, Lord Bach emphasises the recurring theme ‘there is no more money in the pot’.

    We have done some research in our chambers – interpreters in the family courts charge in the region of £200 per day for work in court, £100 for a half day. The LSC regularly pay in the region of £20 – £25 an hour for interpreting. They have no policy as to a maximum charge and when Vera Baird was asked in the House of Commons how much the legal aid board spent on interpreters in 2006 – 2007, and what was projected, she reported that this data was not collated but was just part of the general disbursements claimed by providers (we are cynical that it is not politically convenient to do so – in contrast lawyers costs are diligently calculated). Responses to a consultation report in 2005 on cost of interpreters in immigration cases concluded that imposition of a max charge of £25 per hour would be insufficient incentive for an interpreter to gain a qualification (!).

    Interpreters do very valuable work in the courts, but it now seems in this strange world that the government would endorse a circumstance whereby a trained legal professional of many years experience, conducting a difficult case in court, would be regularly paid less per hour than a person who interprets that lawyer’s questions and the answers in response.

    It just seems barmy. Jack Straw in the speech to which you referred accepted that legal aid lawyers should be paid “decent” rates. I think non-lawyers would be genuinely surprised by the sort of hourly rates which the current government proposals indicate.

    Our chambers has a connection to a Member of Parliament who warned that as general rule unless an issue is brought sufficiently to the attention of ministers, and indeed becomes sufficiently controversial as to be raised by the shadow front bench, it is likely that consultation proposals will be implemented more or less as seen. We have written to various Members of Parliament but have had no response as yet. I know that the FLBA is doing all it can.

    I am sorry that I cannot be more optimistic. At chambers like you we take our work seriously and on the whole enjoy it and feel it to be valuable. However we also must bear in mind that it is stressful. Many of our clients face never seeing their children again. The stakes are high, arguably the highest they could ever be. Our work regularly includes the reading of voluminous papers, often at short notice and at times that intrude into our evenings and weekends. It includes cross examining experts on difficult medical issues.

    Whilst we take our work seriously, like you if these reforms are implemented we will have to contrast the rates at which we would be paid with the fact that it is highly stressful, demanding work and intrudes into our personal lives. We will have to compare the rates payable in personal injury law and other areas of civil law.

    There will be a cull of the family bar, but regrettably it seems that is what the government want.

    We all desperately want the government to see sense and realise the terrible likely effect of these reforms, but fear they won’t. Costs could be cut in some areas and could be done in a way sensitive to this type of work, but it seems the government is not interested. I am cynical that they hammer junior barristers, whilst retaining VHCC etc – do they prefer to retain the supposed ‘fat cat’ figures for their political convenience?

    It is crucial that as many people as possible respond to the consultation, particularly now we have been given some extra weeks to do so.

    Anyway I am sorry to have written at length in a pretty donwhearted way. I have found your blog very interesting to read (I am impressed that you make time for your practice, baby and blogging!) and will look at it regularly from now on.

  19. I agree with most of this. I simply don’t think uattss is an issue for clients, who tend to care about the cost and the result. Status is, however, an issue for solicitors who are perfectly capable of assuming that London counsel means better counsel. In times gone by it was because it afforded ample opportunities to travel to London at the client’s expense for consultations and conferences. Nowadays it is often a form of arse-covering and/or a question of the solicitor’s perception of their own dignity. It is also sometimes to do with marketing – something which ought to be declared to the client in a section on the solicitors (and chambers’) websites. One of the other issues is that High Court Judges are drawn disproportionately from the London Bar, keeping the centre of gravity in the capital. That is because most sensible provincial practitioners don’t want to spend 6 months a year away from home in London. For London practitioners this is not an issue – 3 months on circuit, being looked after, waited on, and dined by the great and the good doesn’t compare to double the time living in a pokey flat and making your own entertainment. Ultimately, any uattss argument is self-perpetuating, because the people obsessed by uattss will go to London where, in due course, they will realise how little it matters besides the daily commute, the incredible expense and the chance to do rubbish work all your life. Most will not admit this and will continue to take comfort in their self-perceived uattss as a substitute for real achievement. The rest of us can get on and enjoy ourselves. The real test, I find, is to assess the look of astonishment on your opponent’s face when you suggest a drink at the end of the day. No one in the provinces bats an eyelid. People from the smoke almost invariably look astonished. To the trained eye, this represents a clear choice.

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