Defence adjournments

Defence lawyers have cases adjourned to increase their own fees.

That's what everybody seems to believe, but in fact it's rubbish.

In the Crown Court solicitor are paid a litigators fee.  The litigators fee doesn't change whether there is 1 hearing or 100 hearings in court.  It does increase if the trial goes on longer than a set time, which varies depending on the offence.  But, importantly the litigator has bugger all to do with how long the trial lasts.

Judges are charged with responsibility for preventing cases going on longer than they should or having more hearings than they should.  If they feel that somebody is causing unnecessary waste then they can disallow that persons fee and even make him pay the costs of everybody else in the case!

In the magistrates courts, solicitors are paid a standard fee depending on whether the defendant pleads guilty (fee of £284.35) or not guilty (£484.60).  There is a higher or lower fee for each and you move into the higher fee if you do enough work.  Most adjournments take less than 5 minutes and you would need  a lot of those to take you from lower to higher standard fee on a trial (in fact assuming an adjournment hearing takes 5 minutes and you need to get to £651 to move from the lower standard trial fee to the higher fee and you are paid the advocacy rate of £62.35 per hour you would need to conduct 126 adjournment hearings to move to the higher standard fee!!)

Legal aid lawyers are not paid for travel or waiting in either the Crown or magistrates' courts.

The reality is that you will be paid more money for a case if there is more work to be done.  So, if there's lots of evidence you'll earn more.  If you simply try to waste time by adjourning everything you'll spend a lot of time not earning anything.

All the solicitors I know operate a business model that aims to resolve cases as quickly as possible so that the firm can be paid and the fee-earners can move on to the next case.

At the moment the best possible case for solicitors from a profits point of view is a case where you are instructed in the police station, the client is charged with a reasonably serious, but not too serious offence, and enters a guilty plea at the magistrates court where is he dealt with on the first occasion.  You don't want the case being committed to the Crown Court because then you won't be paid anything whatsoever for your work in the magistrates' court no matter how many hearings there are!

Comments

  1. Thanks for clearing that up - very informative and partly what blogging's all about really.

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  2. "In the magistrates courts, solicitors are paid a standard fee depending on whether the defendant pleads guilty (fee of £284.35) or not guilty (£484.60)"

    madness. incentive clearly there to encourage a client to plead guilty.

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  3. oops i mean not guilty

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  4. except a guilty plea will take on average a couple of hours : a not guilty plea properly prepared for trial will take between 10-12 hours of a lawyers time (including trial time, pre trial hearings such as bad character and special measure, seeing wtinesses, listening to interview tapes etc.

    An extra 6-12 hours work (or more) for a couple of hundred quid is NOT an incentive at all. Far easier and more lucrative to turn over cases very quickly.

    The LSC keep stats on firms who have unusual proportions of ng pleas or elections for trial (from the national mean) and monitor them rigorously.

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  5. While you have given a insightful view of what defense lawyers get paid for legal aid work, could you also give examples how much they would expect to get paid privately and a rough percentage of how much criminal defense work is legal aid against private work.

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  6. Anon #1, Silvafox has it dead right. There is no incentive to advise a not guilty plea because you a) increase the work significantly; and b) because there are a lot of cases and a finite number of solicitors in the office the more trials you have on the books the more fees you must pay to barristers.

    Typically, we pay £90 for a half day trial and £120 for a full day. For short non-trial hearings, we pay Counsel £50. That comes out of the standard fee that we receive, so in fact if I have a trial where Counsel attends a non-trial hearing and a full-day trial then I'll pay him £170 out of the £484, leaving £314 from which to take care of such things as seeing the client, site visits, attending witnesses etc.

    So, in fact, as I said it's much better to have a guilty plea and get it over in a rush.

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  7. Anon #2, I think it's impossible to say what percentage of defence work is private v legally aided. It also depends on whether you include motoring offences as crimes or not. If you exclude minor motoring offences then probably 99% of criminal cases are either legally aided or presented by the defendant themselves without a lawyer.

    If I were charging privately, I would expect to be paid between £100 - £150 per hour as opposed to £49.70 in legal aid cases. Although, the exact cost would depend upon the seniority of the fee-earner and the nature of the case.

    Firms that do private work are moving more toward fixed fees from what I see. We are in the process of working out our fees, but it'll probably be along the lines of £100 for a short hearing, maybe more for a complicated legal argument and anything from £500 to £1000 for a trial plus Counsel's fees if required, which would include a certain amount of pre-hearing prep.

    Private fees really depend upon the nature of the work being performed.

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  8. Thanks for your reply, i was Anon #2.

    Your fees are less than I would have expected and more than reasonable, certainly compared to most professionals.

    Good to know if i ever find myself in need of legal assistance :)

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  9. Wow you are lucky! £50 for a non-trial hearing? £90 for a full day trial! From a barrister!

    I am a civil litigation solicitor. In my line of work £50 wouldn't get you the work experience girl to attend a hearing for you.

    £70 - £90 plus VAT gets you an "agent" sent by someone such as Kearns or LPC who send non-qualified-i-passed-my-LPC/BVC-but-didn't-get-a-training-contract/pupillage (which incidentally is apparently illegal and a criminal offence under the Legal Services Act 2007) These are for 5 minute hearings.

    On the other hand, I recently had a 20-minute, non-trial hearing in a civil court. Barrister charged £350 plus VAT. It was not the trial of the century, it was an interim hearing in Leicester County Court where a non-represented opponent had pleaded a meaningless and unintelligible defence and we needed a court order to require her to do it again properly.

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  10. Apologies for commenting so late on, but I see another angle.

    Certain defence lawyers have cases adjourned because everybody's turned up on the other side and their client's not looking good. If they adjourn, maybe a couple of witnesses won't appear next time, weakening the case.

    The defence lawyers that pull this stunt are the kind that refuse to allow any witness statements to be read, and insist on every last witness appearing in person to facilitate the scheme above, regardless of how inappropriate that is. Makes them easy to spot, at least.

    I admit my view is skewed as I produce a lot of witness statements in my line of work, 99% just producing a call recording of the defendant. That said, would anyone care to confirm this the last-ditch scheme it appears to be?

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  11. Anon, don't worry about commenting late - I'm often found commenting on other people's blogs years after they wrote the post!

    I had to admit that I've not come across any ploy to adjourn a case at trial where everybody is present and am hard pressed to think of a reason that would convience a court to do so. To be honest, if that's a lawyer's best tactic then he's a pretty shitty brief!

    So far as agreeing witness statements is concerned that can be a result of a number of things. First, criminal clients often don't give you any instructions whatsoever. If you don't have a clue what the defence is yourself then you cannot agree any witness statements without running the risk of being found to have acted negligently or not in accord with your clients instructions.

    Also, the rules say we have to notify our witness requirements within 14 days of committal to the crown court. That's fine if a) you have all the evidence; b) the client provides instructions; c) the barrister is available to give an instant judgment on how he wants to conduct the trial; and d) legal aid has been granted.

    It's common for further evidence to be served late, if something is obviously missing you may not be able to agree everyone.

    Client's often don't bother to give instructions no matter how much you ask them to make an appointment.

    Barristers who are any good are never available at the drop of a hat to go through every aspect of a case long before the client has entered a plea!

    If legal aid has not been granted then you cannot assume you will be representing the client at trial.

    For all of these reasons, you will have to require all witnesses at the outset of a case 99% of the time.

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