Legal Aid Rich List

Apologies for the delayed reaction but the MOJ published it’s top ten biggest legal aid earners last week (here). I have been distracted by imagining what I might do with hundreds of thousands of pounds in income and write this post as I bump back down to earth, noticing as I pass that my aged debt is less than my overdraft.

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Although the inclusion of Paul Storey QC on the list year after year is as predictable as the tides (he is perpetually involved in complex and grisly public law work by recollection, for which he is entitled to earn handsomely) other names generally come and go from one year to the next, as one can see from a cursory glance at last year’s list. The reason for this can be found in the copious annotations to the list of top ten civil barristers – paraphrasing extravagantly: the list doesn’t really tell us much of any use as barrister’s earning change from year to year, the income may represent income earnt over a long period of time which has become ‘bunched’ in payment (yeah – tell my bank manager) and does not really give an indication of net or even taxable income. Which rather begs the question of why it is published in the first place (the answer to which may or may not lie in the probability that the media report only the big figures rather than the footnotes under headlines involving the words ‘fat’ and ‘cat’ – although I confess I can’t actually find any report at all in the national press on this terribly exciting topic!).

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Readers may note not only that

  • the individuals who appear on the list change from year to year suggesting that their incomes shift radically from year to year and cannot reliably be sustained at top ten levels,

but also that

  • the top ten earners are mainly QCs and all experienced and highly regarded experts in their field, 
  • the difference between the amount earnt by the no 1 ranking and the no 10 is £154,000 which I would suggest is a pretty sharpish drop that is likely to be the tip of a pretty sharpish onward incline down to the more normal levels of income the majority of us are receiving (which is borne out by the Kings’ College study on the family bar published earlier this year), and 
  • whilst the top ten mostly comprise of family lawyers some of the top ten either practise exclusively or predominantly in other areas of law.
  • Finally, the only ‘legal aid millionaire’ (to talk in tabloid speak) is a criminal barrister. The top earner in the civil field comes in at £212,000 lower than the number ten on the criminal list and over £600,000 less than his no 1 criminal comparator.

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A nice list to be on for sure, but what does it actually tell us apart from perhaps something about the mindset of those in Government?

4 thoughts on “Legal Aid Rich List

  1. Provincial Solicitor

    “The individuals who appear on the list change from year to year”
    Really? As memory (fallible as it is) serves J Godfrey has appeared for three years with figures of £371,000, £357,000 and £300,000.
    Only one example, I accept, but perhaps indicative of a rather more consistent income than you suggest.
    The highest earner (another junior from the same chambers I believe) comes in at £442,000.
    As a Solicitor-Advocate working in child care this is a figure I can only dream of (even allowing for ‘bunching’ of payments). Indeed it is the sort of figure that many family departments as a whole would be delighted with.
    To give the figure perspective, £442,000 equates to over 6000 hours at my typical advocacy rate.
    It is perhaps unsurprising that the LSC are seeking to cut advocacy fees (naturally, not something I agree with). However, figures like these do not help our case one jot.

    • Well alright, most of them change from year to year. But I’m with you on the surreally large figures point – lest there be any confusion I’m most definitely NOT hovering unnoticed at number 11 in the list. But this is a list of ten people – is it really surprising that those at the VERY top earn very large amounts? It doesn’t actually tell us anything very meaningfula and in particular tells us NOTHING about the other 2990 of us who are not earning anything like these amounts (which is a figure that I think is a rough approximation of the size of the family bar based on FLBA membership of 3000 odd, but of course doesn’t include solicitor-advocates like you). Given the scale of the earnings at the top its hard not to think that if the LSC made some fairly modest savings from the top end of the profession an awful lot of us littler fish could be spared (tax the rich and all that)…But I don’t suppose it would work out like that even if I were advocating a cut-throat defence.

  2. Provincial Solicitor

    I agree with you completely. It is the ‘little fish’ that are likely to suffer under the new proposals; but sadly figures like these have give the LSC more ammunition.

    I am surprised that that the media haven’t picked up on this a little more. Your favourite, The Times, had a detailed look at the proposed social work reforms this morning.

    The problem is that there would be even less interest in a list of the lowest earners, no matter how much more realistic the exercise may be.

    Mind you, at least I would stand a chance of getting into that list…

  3. […] Letter to the Editor added an interesting post on Legal Aid Rich ListHere’s a small excerpt…income the majority of us are receiving (which is borne out by the Kings’ College study on the family bar published earlier this year), and… […]

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