Saturday, August 05, 2006

Carter

I have not posted much recently as I have been pretty busy and have had my head buried in the Carter Review. Lord Carter of Coles has published his report on the procurement of legal aid and has suggested some pretty far reaching reforms of how us criminal solicitors should be paid.

I am not going to dwell on the contents of the report but I do want to raise a few points. No doubt as time goes on I will bang on about Carter, but I will save you from my monologue at this stage.

Lord Carter wishes to change the way that criminal solicitors are paid. For Police Station work it is proposed that instead of being paid varying hourly rates for travel, waiting, attendance etc., that we should now receive a fixed fee for each Police Station case. That means for most cases a set fee will be paid, and that the fixed fee will only be increased if over 18 hours of work is undertaken. It is very, very, very rare for a Police Station case to involve more than 18 hours worth of work.

Currently the varying hourly rates guarantee that whilst doing work on a Police Station case the work is being paid for. Hours worked equal fees generated.

This fixed fee system will not pay for any travel or waiting. The fixed fee will cover work done at the Police Station in terms of consulting with Clients, being present during interview, and being present during identification procedures. So any travel incurred getting to the Police Station or waiting there will not be remunerated in any way.

That's great! Should I be phoned in the middle of the night to attend at the Police Station for an interview at 3 am the government will not pay for me traveling to the Police Station, or waiting there if there is any delay (even if the delay were to be caused by the Police).

The fixed fee system will pay for cases on a per case basis, and not a per visit basis. Also the fixed fee will pay the same amount no matter what the offence is, so the government would pay the same amount if the case was a serial murder or a simple shop theft.

My real gripe with this system is that it will take away any incentive to attend at the Police Station out of normal contracted office hours. Most criminal solicitors are paid a percentage of the fees generated out of hours. So, if I dealt with a Police Station case outside of office hours and the legal aid fees generated came to £400 I would get paid £200 in overtime and then be taxed on that.

Fixed fees present a problem in paying overtime. If the fixed fees are brought in my firm would get paid about £175 before VAT is added. As I am employed I have no need to be VAT registered and cannot claim VAT on top of my overtime. The firm would probably pay 50% of the fixed fee so I would receive about £85 before tax in overtime. I am a fairly energetic solicitor and I am quite happy to work through the night if it is my turn on the rota. There are slightly older members of the profession who would not think twice about ignoring a call for what would be something like £55 after tax.

This country has a network of solicitors that will attend at any given Police Station within 45 minutes of being called 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year including Christmas Day. Bring in fixed fees and you will destroy the incentives to work out of hours, and potentially destroy this network of solicitors available to work out of hours. Why would a solicitor want to risk going to the Police Station in the middle of the night for £55 when it could involve 4 to 5 hours worth of work (including travel and waiting). It puts it in to perspective to think that working for 5 hours through the night the rate of pay after tax is £11 an hour!

11 comments:

Richard said...

£11 per hour seems decent enough to me. Most cases I get involved in mean that night time attendances by solicitors are very rare as interview waits until the morning. Most cases also take a lot less than 4-5 hours. 2 seems the usual.
And lets remember that by forcing pyou out of the market the government increases the strength of the argument for a Public Defence Service !

Gavin said...

£11 An hour may seem alright for a daily rate, but think about £11 an hour for out of hours work, that is in addition to your full days work. A plumber gets paid a small fortune for just a call out fee. Also you have to think that sometimes you might be paid £11 an hour for a murder case where the advice given could either land someone a life sentence or set them free.

4-5 Hours may seem long, but when you factor in travel and waiting most attendances would not be far short of 4 hours.

Public Defender Service! The government ran a public called the Public Defender Service and this pilot was supposed to run over three years. During the time the pilot has run the Public Defender Service has worked out to be far more expensive than us privately employed solicitors doing work on legal aid. In fact the government had failed to publish the results of the Public Defendner Service for the last 12 months, probably because it knows the conclusion will be solicitors were right, we do the work for a cost effective price, and government meddling would just increase running costs.

LJA said...

I assume you are aware but the fixed fees quoted in Carter are inclusive of VAT.

Gavin said...

LJA,

Yes VAT is inclusive for solicitors figures in Carter, but exclusive for Counsels fees. Where is the sense in that?

Anonymous said...

"There are slightly older members of the profession who would not think twice about ignoring a call for what would be something like £55 after tax."

Yes, and some rather younger members as well!

The other big problem with Carter is that it will remove the bar on duty solicitors only performing certain tasks. My boss is already wondering whether it's worth employing any solicitors at all!! Although, I should say that I don't think even he would go that far.

LJA said...

There is no sense in that! although more people will have to utilise higher rights to start making any sort of profit from crime.
As a young solicitor it does make you wonder whether now is the time for a change.

Gavin said...

Carter is going to shift the established heirarchy. Duty Solicitors will no longer sit at the top of the pile for lower Courts work. Firms will be able to bid for more work at the Police Station instead of needing Duty Solicitors to get more business in.

The crime market is going to be in 'flux' for the next five years, then it will get back to some level or normality. The only question is whether or not it still needs young dynamic solicitors? Or will Carter mean that less qualified staff are going to be running the majority of cases instead of solicitors?

Anonymous said...

I work in a big station with 30+ cells. Surely the local firms should get together, pay the station for some office space and simply come up with a rota. Advanatges, no travel time-already there, somewhere to wait and actively get on with other work, pay the rep per shift thus allowing him to plan him income and time. An idea?

reflectingdippy said...

my synical view coming out again but if you were to put solicitors offices in the police station there are bound to be stations were the police cant help themselves and put electronic monitoring equipment in them
only the problem there youd have more actual guilty parties walking free on abuse of process so best in my view to leave solicitor firms were they r

if you got rid of the young solicitors wat would happen in 30 yrs when the now young solicitors retire argh there will be no legal representation i cant see wats wrong with the current system as they say if it aint vroken dont fix it whilst i admit there are some areas that need tweaking in the main we here in the uk have the best legal system in the world its just a bit slow the government should leave it alone

Anonymous said...

Do you think that it might be time for the solicitors firms to treat police station attendances as a loss leader and give 75% of the fee to the solicitor/rep. The main bulk of the fees comes from the actual casework, so in order to provide an incentive for a person to attend the police station, the remuneration has to be proportionate.

Gavin said...

Anon said: "Do you think that it might be time for the solicitors firms to treat police station attendances as a loss leader and give 75% of the fee to the solicitor/rep. The main bulk of the fees comes from the actual casework, so in order to provide an incentive for a person to attend the police station, the remuneration has to be proportionate."

It would be madness to suggest that Police Station work is simply a loss leader. At present the rates for some Police Station cases, such as serious offences dealt with as Duty Solicitor, pay better than rates of advocacy.

My local Police force has a tendancy to arrest people on the weakest evidence and many of the cases are not proceeded with due to lack of evidence.

It is still a massive problem to find a solution that will remunerate employees/agents for Police Station work in the post-Carter era.

If you want to have a serious discussion on this point I suggest you get over to the Criminal Solicitor Dot Net web site and start posting in the forums.