Cry if I want to

It’s my prerogative on this blog to whinge as much as I feel like. And I feel like it today. You don’t mind if I get it off my chest do you?

Yesterday I was told that the payment for a case I have worked on for over a year, in respect of which I have incurred probably £600+ of travel and hotel expenses, and which makes up 50% of my aged debt, has been delayed again as the LSC continues to reject the High Costs Case Plan. I am owed tens of thousands of pounds by the LSC for hard hard work over many many months. I am fed up, as will be my bank manager when I exceed my overdraft again, and my dad when I have to go cap in hand. Again. I’m 37 for christ’s sake. I have my own family. This should not be necessary. I am not the only one. Other members of the family bar have excessive overdrafts, cannot pay mortgages, chambers rent…Some are single parents. Some I know have borrowed large sums from family because of cashflow crises.

This week the 10% cut in the amount we do earn was confirmed as coming into effect from Feb 2012. That’s 10% harder I have to work. Last week I juggled 3 cases in one day. Yesterday I juggled 2. It involved ignoring the kids at bedtime, reading till midnight and then carrying a suitcase the size of a small car around Exeter. This pace of work cannot be kept up all the time. Today I am going to my Grandfather’s funeral so I will not earn. Next week a five day trial has been adjourned so I will not earn much. If I have to go to the doctors, to a school play, on holiday I do not earn. When I have a baby I do not earn. So I have to do extra work to make ends meet. I’ve taken about 3 days for holiday this year (2 long weekends of wet camping since you ask). Last night, after a long drive and when I wanted to sit and contemplate my Grandfather’s funeral I completed 3 attendance notes, and typed and e-filed an order. Ultimately I was too tired to think about it so I blocked it out until today. 

I’m trying not to get too maudlin this morning, so to distract myself I just looked on Linkedin at suggestions for new contacts. It was full of names of people who I know from bar school or who are former opponents. I was shocked at how many were no longer described as “legal professional” but who are now working in industry, management, or have started up their own business. They are leaving in numbers. I wish I could come up with some innovative business idea. I’d be up the Dragon’s Den like a shot.

And just at that moment up pops a message from the clerks about the latest ridiculous trick the LSC are using to delay payment: if the judge does not write “DISTRICT JUDGE X” or “HIS HONOUR JUDGE Y” beneath his / her signature the form is invalid and we don’t get paid. Presumably the justification for this is that there is widespread forgery at the bar of judicial signatures AND theft and misuse of the court seal. I am so fed up of this ridiculous game playing. Just pay us.

If I were in a particularly tinfoil hat mood (perhaps I am) I would be tempted to ponder whether there was some deliberate attempt to starve the family bar of funds so we will all go away and give up. Of course that is ridiculous, but it is sometimes how it feels.

The amendments to the LASPO Bill have been rejected at Committee stage. The ridiculously narrow definition of DV remains. Yesterday I dealt with a case of alleged NAI where neither party would qualify for legal aid under the new scheme. We assessed the 400 odd pages of police and medical disclosure, made directions for expert paediatric evidence, witness summons, witness statements, dealt with drafting a complex schedule of allegations. What on god’s earth is the judge to do without legal representatives to help him pick through all this (it took us an hour with 2 counsel)? What, more to the point, are the parties to do? How can there be a fair outcome, robust findings, confidence in the system? How can we properly protect children this way? I am so ANGRY with it all.

Splashed all over the internet and certain newspapers is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Haigh / Watson case, John Hemmings antics and generally how rubbish, corrupt, evil the Family Justice System and all associated with it are. I’m angry that there is no good quality reporting of family cases from the newspapers (and that there is no editorial control on the dodgy reporting). But more than that, why isn’t this legal aid tragedy front page? Because it will be a tragedy. Children will be harmed. Families and relationships damaged. Family law expertise will wither.

The government are blathering on about social breakdown, dysfunctional families and absent parents in the light of the riots. Now more than ever it ought to be blindingly obvious that cutting families loose to lock horns in the family courts is a false economy and will be a long term calamity.

Sometimes I just bloody despair.

My granddad was an ordinary bloke. He drove a sherman tank in the war, was a postman for 40 years. Had 2 kids. He wasn’t big on talking, but he was passionate. Mostly passionately disagreeing with the rest of us in a mildly curmudgeonly way. He was sharp, but not well educated and he believed what he read in the papers. Although my dad had to battle with him to stay on at school until he was 16, he was subsequently proud that someone in his family had gone to university and become a barrister. Thankfully he never had the need for one, but he would never have been able to afford a lawyer or to cope with court without help. I hope he would be proud that his granddaughter has grown up passionate like him, even though we experienced and understood the world in very different ways.

RANT ENDS

 

22 thoughts on “Cry if I want to

  1. Elliott Lancaster

    Hear hear. I couldn’t agree more with everything you have said above, nor could I have said it better. I am 8 years call, with a mixed family practice. My aged debt is knocking on the door of six figures. I too am fed excuse after excuse by the LSC for non-payment.

    The worst part about it is that I would actually happily take the 10% pay cut if it meant I was paid within a month of each case being billed. But I won’t be. Instead, my pay will decrease along with the delays in legal aid payments.

    Yet nothing changes. Nothing ever will. I am sure the FLBA will try their hardest, but nothing seems to get through. I am exhausted for the same reasons you mention.

    I am sad to say that I am also considering leaving the profession that I adore.

    I am sorry for your recent loss.

  2. Excellent post. The part about rejecting claims due to lack of judge name particularly struck a chord – just the sort of jobsworth nonsense that led me to giving up legal aid work many years ago.

  3. I agree with you entirely. The proposed cuts to Legal Aid are nonsensical, elitist and, to be frank, prove that we no longer live in a fair and just society.

    There may be affordable alternatives in place for individuals seeking uncontested divorces (I openly admit that this is shameless self-promotion) but cuts to other areas will do little more than fail 650,000 people and create enormous backlogs within our courts.

    Anyway, that was my rant. I wish you the best of luck in recovering your fees and thank you for a very entertaining and insightful post.

  4. Bit of sobering reading for all those who think that lawyers are out there simply hoovering up cash. Its bad news you are suffering from these problems, and bad news that they will likely have an enormous and deliterious affect on the profression and potential clients who need these services. Hopefully these things will get sorted out for the better soon for everyone involved though with our current government, who seem incapable of listening to anyone or anything, it may take some time 🙁

  5. I’m sure your granddad was immensely proud of you and with good reason. Your posts are full of the passion and determination we families need in times of crisis.

    My deepest sympathies for your loss.

  6. Thanks for all your kind and positive comments, both on this comments thread and by email. x

  7. Well put and not a rant at all. Would not advise reading the Committee proceedings which are frustrating. Each amendment is falling by only 1 or 2 votes despite stalwart efforts by a couple of Labour & Plaid Cymru MPs to explain the implications to Mr Djanogly.

  8. Notafamlylawyer

    Dear Familoo

    Why doesn’t the Head of the Family Law Bar Assocation report the CEO of the LSC to Sir Gus O’Donnell for gross misconduct as a civil servant and breach of the Civil Service Code?

    Additionally, I suggest you ask your colleagues at the Criminal Bar Association if you have a claim against the LSC under either the Fraud or Theft/Distraint laws. If the CBA is unhelpful go and speak to the Fraud Squad at the City of London Police.

    • Well, notafamlylawyer, I can think of a number of reasons why not, but it does sound like an audacious plan. Sadly, I have some Friday night wine drinking to focus on, which must take priority. 😉

  9. Notafamilylawyer

    Familoo

    I hope the drinking went well, I have just bought a hugely expensive bottle of wine for an upcoming family event so I know how you feel.

    The LSC gets away with stringing barristers and solicitors along precisely because no-one ever uses their own rules against them. This situation will persist until the legal profession hits back. I speak from experience having been telephoned years after I had left the self-employed bar and told the LSC had some money for me relating to a case I had dealt with as a pupil. It was a nice surprise but it should never have happened. If it happened now I would blister Gus O’Donnell’s ears, copied to my MP and Ken Clarke, and make clear I expected disciplinary action against the responsible civil servants for holding on to money that did not belong to them.

    Just a thought.

    • I don’t have the stomach or the time for it I’m afraid. Perhaps I should. Sadly I suspect it would be an invitation to throw more technicalities at me, and a diversion from just processing the claims. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so pathetic.

  10. If lawyers can’t even manage to get paid on time themselves ,it suggests that they are probably even more useless at getting it for their clients !!

  11. i’d just like to point out that i am a barrister and a thoroughly useless individual to boot.
    hope this helps…. someone.

  12. What are the documents which judges need to be careful to sign in the way you describe? We need to get word out there so the LSC excuse can be spiked.

    • SIPS (special issue payments) forms, and FAS (family advocacy scheme) attendance forms. We have to get one signed at each hearing in order to get paid. No form, no payment. No stamp no payment. No signature no payment. An i not dotted no payment. A t not crossed… you get the picture.

  13. Got the picture. Let’s see how widely we can get this known.

  14. I am a solicitor who has just left the world of Legal Aid for good. the moment the LSC welched on the February block payments to solicitors in 2010 I knew they had gone wacko and decided to take themselves out of the rule of law as we know it.
    My business development plan would be: pick up an inheritance and dependants Act practice, be lovely to trainees and junior solicitors in private practice; the barristers who were kind to me when i was a baby have my undying gratitude. i make a point of paying the fee note by return…and develop the direct access practice like billy-o.

    I don’t know if you “do money” as I can see the problem for practitioners who specialise in Children Act law and feel uncomfortable doing money.

    best idea is to develop the two obvious bolt on businesses: firstly the dating agency ( we know so many suddenly single people) and my personal favorite; the assassination bureau( the wardrobe crosses over so well).

    keep blogging; my condolences for your loss. more wine Vicar?

  15. […] well worth reading is a post on Lucy Reed’s Pink Tape blog; both an outburst of frustration at the state of legal aid and a moving tribute to her grandfather, […]

  16. When life as a university law lecturer gets me down, I console myself with the thought that it could be worse, I could still be a practising family solicitor…

  17. Having spent many an hour to them after they repeatedly rejected an AP8 w/DWP letter verifying passported benefit, the LSC’s moved on from rejecting aps for the slightest error or omission, they’re purposely delaying dealing with payments.

    I wrote to their Chief Exec and a senior manager called me saying how pissed off at his staff he was and how it was unacceptable. How I longed to tell him that as a manager, he should learn how to manage & start by shouldering some responsibility. To say the LSC is in a chronic state of disarray is and understatement.

    I’ve bailed. The system is broke & government has no desire to fix it. I didn’t qualify for this. If Government wants to cut costs, they’ll have to hire in-house Public Defenders and family lawyers, and if you want a silky pony barrister or solicitor, you can pay.

    Sorry, that’s the logical conclusion to Ken Clarke’s policies. The Lords aren’t going to be able to stop this freight train. It’s over.

    And women will bear the brunt.

    Perhaps the senior Bar has been taking the piss for too long and now we’re all getting punished.

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