Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Location, Location, Location

I have moved offices. About a year ago the firm that I worked for had a bit of a management disagreement and the Crime Department left my previous firm and joined another firm. After these two firms worked together for a year I was moved from my old office in sunny Southend-on-Sea to the new City of Chelmsford.

My new office location is very good. I am based in a small city that has within in it a "centralised remand" Magistrates Court, a Crown Court - and the local prison is also in the city. The Police Station for the city is currently closed for refurbishment but it should reopen in the next 12 months or so. All of the facilities that I need are right on my office doorstep and are all within walking distance.

Location is a very important part of crime work. A firms office post code will determine what rotas solicitors are eligible to get on for Duty Solicitor work. In the past 5 years, or so, firms have been moving their offices about, or opening up new satellite offices, in order to qualify their firm to get on to new Duty Solicitor rotas. There is a simple economic theory that the more rotas a firm can get on to the more crime work they are likely to do.

But, location can be a pain in the back side for some firms. I mentioned that my city now has a "centralised remand" Court. This means that over time some smaller Magistrates Courts have been closed as they were deemed inefficient and costly. Now there are some Magistrates Courts that are open on a daily basis but they no longer deal with "custody" cases - that is defendants who the Police have decided should be prosecuted for offences but have decided not to release those people on bail. Essex now has a system of centralised remand Courts so that defendants who are not granted bail by the Police are sent to a single Court in the North of the county, and a single Court in the South of the county.

The idea of a centralised remand Court is fine for my location. But there are firms which are based outside of Chelmsford that have to send one solicitor to the centralised remand Court to deal with any custody cases, and still send another solicitor to their local Magistrates Court to deal with defendant's who are on bail. It is a common occurrence for some firms not to send a Duty Solicitor to cover their allocated slots on the Court rota simply because they do not want that solicitor to be at a Court where they could be deployed to make more money elsewhere.


Jo said...

Does it really make financial sense to not cover court duties? I appreciate that if you have a few clients in one court then agenting those out could run to £150-£200, but surely the combination of being paid an hourly rate as duty plus picking up the odd representation order or two makes it financially worthwhile covering the duties (unless, perhaps, it's one of those courts where there's never any duty work and duty gets sent away after two hours).

Even agenting out the duty to someone will still make enough money to make it worth going - one firm I occasionally cover duties for pays at 80% of the duty rate but they still make 20% and get representation orders out of it

I'm interested in the logic behind that sort of decision because I've been at court a number of times when there's been no duty solicitor show up.

Gavin said...

I agree with you that Court Duties paid at an hourly rate are extremely profitable. In business terms it seems to me to be foolish not to send a Duty Solicitor to cover a slot on the basis that if they pick up 3 or 4 cases that are adjourned, then they are likely to make a further £800 to £1,000 off the back of that work.

Firms who genuinely fail to honour their obligations on a Duty Solicitor rota should not be on the rota in the first place.

Jo said...

Firms who genuinely fail to honour their obligations on a Duty Solicitor rota should not be on the rota in the first place. Indeed. Such firms fill up spaces on the duty rotas that other firms would be happy to take.

There is also, potentially, the possibility of turning those duty clients into regulars. I've long thought that you have to have a good own-client base of work to underlie the duty work because you just cannot guarantee that the duties will produce anything. Even on the previous busy central London police station and court rotas work recently has been very up and down. Duties give you the scope for building up a decent client base.

GDLer said...

Hi there Gavin I am new to ur blog but i thoroughly enjoy what you have to say. Could you please give me some advice on becoming a criminal defence solicitor, i am currently studying the gdl and have a 2.2 degree in forensic and investigate studies

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