Legal Aid silliness

Just following up on my last post where I mentioned how complex legal aid is; I have just billed a trial.  One of the solicitors in the office conducted the litigation while I acted as advocate - the barrister if you like.  The trial lasted for three days.  Neither of us are paid anything for the first two days of the trial, this is included in the basic fee.  However, for day 3 I was paid a pretty reasonable £451 for attending, conducting a trial, questioning witnesses, making a speech to the jury etc etc.  However, the litigator received an extra payment of £771.17 for that day (I know as I'm preparing his bill for him).  For that extra payment he did not attend court, although I think I spoke to him on the telephone. 



Because of the way the system works you have to claim everything.  If you don't then when your files are audited there will be a discrepancy between your claim and the 'correct' fee, this will count against you and you will lose your status as a Category 1 firm - this is important as a couple of years ago the LSC refused to renew the contracts of all Cat 3 firms, so they went out of business.

This happens because the LSC insist on paying solicitors based purely on the number of pages and the length of trial irrespective of what work needs to be done.  They call this swings and roundabouts because sometimes you do well, other times you lose out.  What it really does is removes any incentive to do good quality work and creates a climate where solicitors might as well employ as many untrained paralegals as possible to avoid paying the extra premiums demanded by qualified and experienced solicitors.  Just remember if you're ever accused of a crime you didn't commit (or maybe one you did) then these are the people who could be fighting for you.

If the Government really want to reduce the cost of legal aid then they would do well to look at the complex way it is organised.  I'm not aware of any situation where the more complicated something was the cheaper it became and the same is true of legal aid.  If it's complicated then there will be more mistakes.  If there's more mistakes then you need more staff and better computers to catch them.

Comments

  1. With all respect, I'm not quite sure you have analysed that right.

    Sure the litigator got paid £771, but it wasn't for the third day of the trial, it was for preparing and litigating a three-day trial.

    That still might not be fair and reasonable, but it is far from being the rip-off that you make it appear to be! Just because the litigator's job is more front-loaded and you pull the reins at the end does't make it unfair in itself.

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  2. That is my point, although maybe not expressed as well as it should have been. There was no more work done by the litigator for this trial because it went into three days rather than two. Because the LSC like to rely on the swings and roundabouts approach to legal aid funding they waste a lot of money. Some cases that last three days genuinely deserve more money for the litigator, whereas some don't. Under the ex post facto system that we used to use the lawyers were renumerated for the work they did rather than on this rather bizarre mess we have now.

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  3. Yep, I thought that was what you were getting at - it's just you came across a bit sniffy about it (too much of the 'barrister' maybe!).

    You're right, of course, that it is all too damn complicated, and while length of trial might be a sane rule-of-thumb measure for an advocate it is a rotten one for a litigator.

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