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?

Jack Straw Deplores…

I see Jack Straw has made an astonishingly sweeping statement deploring the rise in legal aid, legal aid lawyers and well, lawyers in general. He doesn’t mention ‘fat cat’ but we get your drift Jacko.

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It is obviously a complete coincidence that the FLBA have scheduled a press conference for today regarding the forthcoming Family Law Bar Association Survey Report (on which more on Monday when the embargo is lifted) and that the closure deadline on the family legal aid consultation is looming ever larger (18 Mar). Because it’s almost the weekend and I’m feeling charitable I will not say that this is an obvious and cynical pre-emptive spin attack. Because that would be mean.

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I can’t resist one or two comments on Mr Straw’s remarks:

‘People complained that fewer law firms reduced access to justice. But that confused access with physical proximity, Mr Straw said.’  For vulnerable impoverished clients who make up the vast majority of legal aid beneficiaries there is no distinction – geographical distance is a bar to access. And for legal aid lawyers (solicitors or barristers) who will under new proposals not receive any recompense for their travel time geographical distance is the diffference between viable and not viable.

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‘He also urged more devolving of work to para-legals and others so that the most highly qualified lawyers did not take on all the work, as had happened in the National Health Service.’  We don’t have heart surgery carried out by NVQ students, paralegals are not advocates, are not regulated and are not suitable for most court based work. I should know, I was one once – I knew nothing and if you had let me loose on a family case I would have wreaked havoc, with all my good intentions.

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Thanks to Family Lore Focus for pointing this article out.