Monday, January 22, 2007


Last week I received a leaflet from the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association advertising one of it's new training courses. I probably receive one of these leaflets a week and usually I briefly look at the leaflet and throw it away. The only reason for me to actually read the leaflet that I received was because I had been told that I needed some training so I should attend the training course that this particular leaflet was advertising.

I was somewhat amused by the leaflet's description of the individual who was going to be speaking at the training seminar. I have set out below the exact text from the leaflet on the speaker (apart from his identity and the name of the firm he works for):
Mr. Solicitor is a solicitor at Solicitor & Partners and a regular lecturer for the LCCSA. The 2004 Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession described him having a "pedigree which stands out by itself". The 2005 edition as "tremendously bright", the 2006 edition as a "business crime legend" and the 2007 edition as having made a "massive academic contribution due to his involvement on the lecture circuit". Colleagues have described him as a 'complete wanker'.

I am pretty sure that the last sentence was not supposed to be published and circulated to every member of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Marketing for criminal clients has always been a problem. Advertising to the general public about a firms criminal department never usually works as the people you are trying to reach often fail to respond to such adverts. Word of mouth is king, and reputations are very important.

If a person is arrested on a regular basis it is likely that they will have had contact with solicitors before - it is also likely that they will fit in to a stereotypical social group i.e. they have a low income and have some form of addiction (either drug or alcohol related). Trying to advertise services to this social group is pointless, particularly as they are usually going to be entitled to legal aid and therefore there is no price competition in the market. Word of mouth for these Clients works on this basis:

Mr. A: The Police want to arrest me, they came round to my house last night when I was out.
Mr. B: Who is your solicitor?
Mr. A: Joe Bloggs and Co. But last time I didn't get bail.
Mr. B: Nah, don't use them. My mate was arrested the other day and he got bail. Use Smith and Partners.
Mr. A: But I heard they work with the Police.
Mr. B: Really? Oh, use my solicitors then.

Clients rarely judge solicitors on a variety of performance factors, they usually judge whether or not they are going to get bail and whether or not they will be locked up for long. The more regular Clients will often build up a relationship with one particular firm or solicitor so that marketing criminal defence services becomes even more difficult.

The other night I was at a Police Station and I saw that a local firm was handing out key rings to it's criminal clients. The key rings had the firms name on it and the emergency contact telephone number. It is a simple idea, but unlikely to set the world on fire. I once worked for a firm that sent out key rings to Clients. The firm advertised that it worked in the area of 'public law' by proclaiming to have expertise in 'pubic law'. A few years ago a trend was set by firms creating plastic business cards that were effectively indestructible. These plastic cards were handed out to clients and they did not fall apart like business cards made from card - the only problem with plastic business cards was that the Police would take them away from Clients at the Police Station because some Clients would use the card to self harm and try to slit their own wrists! Imagine that, finding out that a Client had killed himself using your business card!

I sat discussing marketing ideas with a colleague today. We drew up a shortlist of marketing ideas that are unlikely to succeed, but are likely to prove popular in the short term:

  1. Branded alcohol or cigarettes. The cause for getting in to trouble could be getting drunk. Everyone remembers what they were drinking before their memory fades, a branded bottle of drink would remind Clients to give you a call. Also every Client wants a cigarette at the Police Station, regardless of whether or not they smoke. Branded cigarettes would remind the Clients who to call when arrested.
  2. Advertising space on Police Cell ceilings. What can you do when you have been arrested and placed in to a cell? Not a lot. Many Police Cells have the crime stoppers telephone number printed/sprayed on the ceiling. That ceiling is valuable advertising space. When a Client is detained at the Police Station 9 times out of 10 they will got to sleep and look at the ceiling.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


I went to my local Magistrates Court today. A man was in the cells as it was alleged that he had breached his bail conditions. I spoke with the Prosecutor and obtained some papers on the case before going down to the cells to visit the man. When I spoke to the Serco Custody Staff I was told that the man had his own solicitor and that that firm of solicitors had asked if I could phone them. I was later instructed to act on their behalf.

I spoke with the man and asked him a few questions:

Q: It is alleged that you breached your bail because you had a condition not to sit in the front seat of a car, and you were arrested sitting in the front seat of a car?
A: [Low grumbling noise, then man lifts his head off of the interview room table] No! They is lying. I was standing outside the car. They is lying. I'm not havin' that. They is lying.
Q: So you disagree.
A: [Low grumbling noise, then man lifts his head off of the interview room table again] Yes, I want bail man. I 'aint stayin here again. I want bail.

We did not really get off to a good start, the man even sucked air through his front teeth - and that really gets on my nerves. After explaining that if the man wanted to contest the allegation of breach of bail he would have to go through a mini trial today and challenge the evidence of the Police he instructed me to tell the CPS Prosecutor that he did not accept the breach of bail. As this man had presented himself as being unpleasant and clearly thought that I was his skivvy I was happy to act upon his instructions that were doomed to result in failure. I warned the man that he was more likely to be given bail again if he were to accept the overwhelming evidence that he had breached his bail as the Prosecutor had already given me an indication that he would not ask for a remand in to custody if the breach of bail was accepted. Despite my warning I was again instructed to pursue the breach of bail hearing as the man's instructions were that he was not going to accept the alleged breach.

When the man's case was called on the evidence of the Police Officer who spoke with the Client whilst he was sat in the front seat of a car was read to the Court. The man gave oral evidence and disputed that he was ever sat in the front seats of the car. He looked at some still pictures taken from CCTV footage produced by the Prosecutor and simply sucked air through his teeth. It was a complete shambles. I used the phrase, "I am instructed to..." on a number of occasions to make it known that I thought the man's case had no merit but I was told by the man to make the application anyway. Eventually the Magistrates decided that the breach of bail had been proved and they then decided to remand the man in to custody.

Following the hearing I saw the man in the cells and explained why he had been remanded in to custody. He then asked if I would take his car keys and get someone to pick up his car as he did not want it to get clamped. I told the man that I was going to have nothing to do with his car and that his usual solicitors would see him very soon.

I left Court feeling somewhat smug that this man had failed to listen to me warn him that the evidence was overwhelming, and that as a consequence of his refusal to listen to me (and probably everybody who he came in to contact with) that he had remanded himself in to custody.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Utter Rubbish

The Legal Services Commission has finally published an evaluation report of the Public Defender Service. The Public Defender Service was an experiment set up by the Legal Services Commission in 2000 to see what running a criminal defence practice was actually like. A number of annual reports have been published over the years about the Public Defender Service, and each report confirmed that the Public Defender Service is not an economically viable alternative to private solicitors firms doing criminal defence work under legal aid schemes.

A press release was issued by the Legal Services Commission to announce the publication of the final evaluation report:

The Public Defender Service (PDS) provides a better quality of service than private practice according to independent research published today. This finding is based on one of the largest and most detailed peer review evaluations of criminal defence services ever conducted.

In addition the research states that providing criminal advice services through an organisation directly employed by the state has no negative impact on the independence of the advice and representation provided to clients

The research was carried out by a team headed by Professors Lee Bridges of the University of Warwick and Avrom Sherr of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London. It was based on an analysis of the PDS during its first three years of operation, from 2001 to 2004. It showed that during this start-up period, when the PDS was building up its caseload, it had higher costs than other criminal defence providers in the same areas.

The PDS annual report 2005/06 also published today shows that the service has become more efficient since the research was carried out. It also shows the most successful PDS offices are in areas such as Cheltenham with limited supply and can add value by filling gaps in the market.

Gaynor Ogden, Head of Employed Services at the Legal Services Commission said:

"I welcome the findings of the research which shows that Public Defender Service has become an example of a good quality criminal defence supplier and has a lot to offer the Legal Services Commission as a test bed of service delivery and a role in informing policy.

"The research report is based on data collected early in the life of the PDS and we have come a long way since then in terms of growth, quality and cost. We have introduced a new management structure which has bought focus to performance and we have introduced innovative methods of delivery including developing our in-house higher court advocates.

"We now have an opportunity to make firm plans about the future of the PDS and how we can best offer quality, value-for-money services to clients. We expect to make an announcement about the future shape of the PDS soon."

Legal Aid Minister, Vera Baird added:

"This research shows very clearly that the PDS is independent and gives robust advice: public defenders advise people not to speak in police station interviews more frequently than private solicitors; and more PDS defendants than private solicitor defendants enter early guilty pleas, yet the PDS has an equivalent client conviction rate, thus sparing their victims further trauma. Clearly the PDS has a future."

It is the comments in bold type that has inspired me to give this blog post the title 'Utter rubbish'. The PDS does not provide value for money, it is a vastly more expensive service to fund when compared to solicitors in private practice. My understanding is that the costs per case for the PDS is some three times higher than a solicitors firm in private practice. Yes, the PDS may have a future if it is going to provide services in areas where private solicitors have stopped providing criminal defence services because the income they generated by legal aid fees was so small. Yes, the PDS may provide a quality service to defendants - and that may well be down to the fact that they have fewer cases to deal with than solicitors firms in private practice.

The Public Defender Service was an expensive project funded by government money. The government is currently telling solicitors like me that the legal aid budget cannot accommodate any more increases and that we will all have to do the same (or more) work for less money in the future. The government is also trying to force upon solicitors smaller fees for work at the Police Station and Magistrates Court (this is a slight generalisation, but an accurate one) whilst it is suggesting the expensive PDS should continue to grow. The government is being somewhat hypocritical with the press release.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Wanted: For Crimes Against Common Sense

The Daily Mail is a newspaper that publishes a lot of amusing stories. The articles are usually amusing for the content published or the viewpoint that the paper takes. The article with the headline, "Wanted: for crimes against common sense," caught my eye:

A Chief constable was accused of 'madness' last night after refusing to release pictures of two escaped murderers amid fears it might breach their human rights.

Derbyshire's top policeman David Coleman claimed the killers posed 'no risk' to locals, while the force said it had to consider the Human Rights Act and data protection laws when asked to publish 'wanted' photographs of the two men.

Mr Coleman's attitude towards murderers Jason Croft and Michael Nixon contrasts sharply with his ruthless crackdown on speeding drivers in recent years - including a 62-year-old who was jailed after being caught doing 38mph in a 30mph zone.

You can read the rest of this article by following this link.

Good Planning

Here is a true story of how badly most Clients will plan their offending. Over the Christmas period a few people got together and dreamt up a scheme to make some fast money. You would think that if they actually put some thought in to it that the plan would be reasonable and that they would probably get away with the crime.

The crime that was planned was a robbery of a petrol station. The robbery was to be an inside job as one of the people making the plan was one of the employees of the petrol station. The appointed night came and the group of criminals made their way to the crime scene. The CCTV camera was moved so that it was looking at a wall, and not at the door of till area, by the petrol station employee. The other people involved in the crime came in to the petrol station and with the help of the employee emptied out the cash from the till - this should not have been caught on camera but unfortunately the CCTV camera had been pushed so that it's new viewpoint was looking at a mirrored/reflective surface that gave a very good view of what was going on at the till.

Before the criminals left the premises they decided to make the robbery look real and with the consent of the employee beat him up. Unfortunately some members of the public saw the employee being beaten up and called the Police.

As the 'robbers' were leaving the petrol station dressed in balaclavas the Police arrived in a car with the lights and siren going. The 'robbers' jumped in to their getaway car and started to drive away at speed. Unfortunately the view of the driver was obscured because his windscreen had steamed up and he simply could not see out of the balaclava as it kept slipping down his head. Eventually the 'robbers' crashed their vehicle and were arrested and detained by the Police.