Tendering and the Death of the High Street Solicitor

by Ray_North on June 3, 2015

Unknown-4At the moment Solicitors up and down the Country are waiting to hear if they’ve been successful in the tendering process to obtain a Legal Aid Franchise. This might seem like a fairly dull topic for a Wednesday afternoon blog, but, it’s a subject close to my heart and it should be close to yours as well.

At present there are about 1600 firms of solicitors in the UK who carry out work in the Family and Criminal Courts; under the government’s proposals, this number would be reduced by over two thirds to just 500. And these 500 would be the ones who are ‘best placed to provide quality services at a competitive cost to the treasury.

What that nonsense means is that contracts will be awarded to those who are the cheapest. And that means, alas, goodbye to those companies who aren’t large enough to enjoy the economies of scale that being big brings. In short, it means goodbye to hundreds of brilliant and professional firms of solicitors who have developed years, often generations of experience and skill that will never be replaced.

It means goodbye to firms like Davies, Jones and Williams (not their real name) of Bala, who have been operating for well over 100 years and used to send work to a young Caernarfonshire lawyer called David Lloyd George. I did a case for them a year or so ago, defending one of their clients who had fallen foul of Health and Safety Regulations – their offices were like something out of a novel by Anthony Trollope, I half expected to hear the tap-tap ting of typewriters, but the service I received was amazing. A proper brief put together by a solicitor who knew everything there was to know about the law and the client and the facts and had already tee’d up a number of influential witnesses (people who he knew personally and didn’t hesitate to co-operate with him) who would support our case in Court – hell, I was even given a cup of tea with a saucer and a slice of home made cake during my conference. It was brilliant, and no surprise that the case ended successfully.

But, my defence of rural and High Street, solicitors has nothing to do with my affection for the homespun and traditional, the fact is that such firms are invaluable – the law is about people and ensuring that all people are able to live together in a state that is as harmonious as possible; and having professional people with local knowledge is absolutely essential in the pursuit of that aim. When Davies, Jones and Williams go (for go they will, my understanding is that they haven’t even bothered to apply for a franchise), their place will be taken by large firms, based in the Cities and manned by faceless lawyers, whose primary concern is about making the books balance and a profit to boot – will they have the time and ability to chase up witnesses and collate evidence? No chance. Will they have the knowledge of the local area and judiciary? No. The reality is that they won’t even send a solicitor to Court,too expensive, instead they’ll simply send an overworked and under-trained ‘Higher Rights Advocate’, to ‘do their best’. The result will be injustice, appeals, which are expensive and time consuming, and a whole generation of people who will grow cynical about the concept of justice which will become another thing that is the privilege of the richest.

Sadly, most people don’t care, indeed, perhaps the abattoir owner I represented wouldn’t have cared either, until the day when he was faced with a Court summons for offences for offences that he was ultimately found not guilty, and was able to walk down to the firm of solicitors he knew, just up from the butchers he served and speak to someone who saw his case as being important to the community he lived in.

The availability of good lawyers at a price we can all afford is the mark of a fair and decent society, we should cherish it, not look to cut it and throw it away, because I tell you this, we’ll all miss it when it’s gone.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East June 3, 2015 at 10:37 pm

Flogging legal aid franchises to the cheapest will not only mean the loss of hundreds of high street firms, it will also lead to massive de-skilling, as para-legals and un legally-trained admin staff in call centres take over much of the work. No doubt overseen by a solicitor but one who is so far removed from the day to day running of the cases as to be little more than a manager. This is the future. It is a scary one.

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John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 12:56 pm

“At present there are about 1600 firms of solicitors in the UK who carry out work in the Family and Criminal Courts”
Family Courts?,.. is that a joke. Family Law, is a thirty year father ‘culling’ programme, where solicitors and barristers get very rich on legal aid whilst judges take the piss, by pretending justice exists in Family Law, and the father inevitably, loses his children after a 3 year fight.
We don’t need yet more fat barristers,.. we need a full open public scrutiny on the mass killing of fatherhood jokingly called Family Law.
F**k you and your legal aid, get a civilised job down at Aldi.

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Ray_North June 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

John, thank you for your comment – I profess, that you’ve left me at a loss as to what on earth you’re trying to say? There is a distinction between the Family Court System, Legal Aid and Family Law – the system, is of course, the process that people go through, Legal Aid, is what ensure that lawyers get paid and parties get representation, whilst the law, of course, is what governs all of us. Which part do you particularly have a problem with? Perhaps all parts.
I’m guessing that you’ve had an issue with a judgement in the Family Courts – now, I can’t comment on that, as I don’t know the individual facts of your case – but, if you got rid of the law and the procedure (putting to one side the issue of legal aid) then we would be left with a system where disputes about children and families were sorted out by whoever was the most vocal or could pack the most muscle getting their way – which, surely, no right minded person would advocate in favour of.
You may have a point about the Family Courts and CAFCAS being skewed in favour of the mother – but that isn’t actually the point of my piece. What I am bemoaning is the fact that tendering will lead to the death of High Street Firms of Solicitors and the replacement with large, nameless firms of legal providers – if you think that they will be able to offer a father like yourself (I’m assuming) a better level of service in Court than an experienced and trained barrister or solicitor – then you’re just wrong.
You suggest I get a civilised job at Aldi – thanks for that suggestion, there are times, when I find that very attractive – but, alas, because I do actually care about my clients and the system of justice, I would rather fight for what I think is right, than simply get a job in the Private sector which would probably pay me a lot more.

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John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm

As I said open up the Family Law fiasco, to public scrutiny, and while you’re at it divorce law, should have a starting point of *shared residence* for parents.
But of course you Family Law ambulance chasers, would probably make less money from legal aid, so it isn’t going to happen.
I remember many years ago helping in a support group for the charity,.. Families Need Fathers. It was a walk in group meeting to give assistance to fathers going through the ‘laughable’, Family Law Court system. One evening a young chap walked in and sat for about 40 minutes, before he introduced himself. Turns out, he was a barrister, who had just found out that his wife (also a barrister), had taken a shine to (yet another barrister), down at the chambers where she worked. She’d thrown him out and was in the process of throwing him out of his child’s life. He’d seen his *clients* go through the same father culling sh*t, and he knew the score, and was desperate for support. The irony would have been hilarious, had I not seen the moisture and redness in his eyes.
The whole of the Family Law *death squad*, ( which includes f**ckwit Court Welfare Officers now rebranded CAFCAS), doesn’t need more pompous legal aid ‘teat hangers’,.. it needs to stop (secretly behind closed courtroom doors), robbing children of their fathers.
The real question is, will these solicitors and barristers have any usable *real world* skill sets, once they are finally forced off the legal aid teat? Having seen these pin striped fools, many times reading through their ‘bundle’,.. for the first time, ten minutes before going into court, whilst popping pills to help their hangover,.. I very much doubt it?
Some of the best outcomes for fathers in divorce proceedings, I found, where with a father as, litigant in person, with a McKenzie friend? But of course, there’s no money in that for you is there?
No wonder men are starting to go their own way. MGTOW

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Jane Doe June 6, 2015 at 2:21 pm

What have you got against fat barristers John Dunn? Maybe they’re just big boned?
I think you’ve missed the point here.
We all want access to justice when we feel we’ve been wronged. The breakdown of the family unit is devastating and finding a legal representative who listens, in whom we can trust and to whom we can pour our hearts out makes the whole sorry process slightly more bearable.
If the smaller firms close, we will lose those experienced solicitors who have spent their whole careers putting the interests of their clients first, working long hours, often above and beyond expectation, in order to do their very best for that individual. The best solicitors only instruct the barristers who they know will do the best job they can for their client.
It isn’t the solicitor or the barrister who makes the final decision, it is the Court.
Sadly, there will often be an aggrieved party in a family case (and it’s not always the father), but whichever side you’re on, the decline of the high street firm means you will no longer have anyone decent to represent you.

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John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 3:42 pm

“I think you’ve missed the point here.”
Trust me,.. I haven’t missed the point. The article rendered down,.. is ‘ How can we ambulance chasing f**ckwits with zero skills stay on the government assisted *legal aid teat*, irrespective of whether we provide any useful service, because outside of chambers, were,… F*******cked !!.
See,.. I do get it.?

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Ray_North June 6, 2015 at 4:05 pm

John, we’ve been doing this blog for over five years, and, with respect, yours is by far the most stupid contribution we’ve ever had. In fact, it’s so stupid, I’m going to award you a small cash prize.
How dare you dismiss the whole legal profession as ‘ambulance chasers’ suckling at the ‘legal aid teat’. I’ve been a barrister for 17 years (I’m not a family barrister actually, indeed I haven’t set foot in a family court for well over a decade) – I could actually earn a shit load more money doing private work or probably other jobs, but, that’s not the point – the point is that EVERYONE deserves to be represented by people who know what they’re doing in Court if they are in trouble, just like if you’re ill you deserve a doctor – if there were no lawyers mate, then the Courts would be full of angry people who talk shite – a bit like you really; and if there was no legal aid, the courts would be dominated by rich people who can afford lawyers – which would be unfair wouldn’t it!?!
And what’s this cobblers about lawyers not having any proper skills? Would you say to a welder, you haven’t got any skills other than welding? No of course not. You’re bitter John, and you need to move on – because a world without people who are willing to use their skills to represent those who have unfortunately fallen foul of the law would be a sad, anarchic and inherently unfair place.

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John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Did I hit a raw nerve Ray?
“I could actually earn a shit load more money doing private work or probably other jobs”
Then put the legal aid green form through the shredder and go forth and *fill your boots* in the private sector. Seventeen years as a barrister,… but you must surely have some socially useful skills as well?

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Ray_North June 6, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Probably shouldn’t carry on this John, but I’m going to – because, no you haven’t hit a raw nerve – you’ve just demonstrated an olympic class ability to completely miss the point. I am a firm believer in the legal aid scheme (the green forms are long actually) – and if you were offered to me as a client (let’s say you were accused of harassment), I would represent you with all the skill and expertise that I have amassed over those 17 years, and hopefully you’d get a solicitor who could also offer you similar expertise. But, mate, the tendering process is going to see these people disappear – to be replaced by firms with names such as (and this is true) Eddie Stobart Law – FFS they’re a haulage company, not a firm of lawyers – is that what you want? Do you want ordinary people to have to pay for their legal representation? Do you want ordinary people to have lesser representation than richer people? If you’re angry now, you’d be even angrier then.
That’s it. Final word. Been nice talking to you – hope you’ll contribute again.
(and my social skills are pretty well honed, I think, but I suppose I would wouldn’t I!)

John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Ray,… promises :
“I’m going to award you a small cash prize.”
Well, woopieee do,… send your cash prize here Raymondow!
http://www.fnf.org.uk/

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Ray_North June 6, 2015 at 7:11 pm

Better than that John – I’m going to offer you pro-bono legal representation the next time you need a bit of advice/help – can’t say fairer than that! ;)

John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 8:07 pm

Hi Ray
I think a cheque to fnf.org.uk,.. would have been better, but hey ho,.. I guess a barristers *cash promise*, is to be treated much like a politicians pledge,.. a pinch of salt ,.. there,.. merely for a brief transient moment, like images of fairy wings in a Victorian Camera Obscura, ..ethereal, ..ghostly,.. and not to be treated with any seriousness.
And when you can convert your *pro bono*, into something more useful, like tiling a bathroom, or laying a flag patio, get back to me.?
Until then MGTOW

John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Thanks for the update Ray.
But to be honest,.. I think an Eddie Stobart truck coming through the wall of a Family Law courtroom sitting, would be a far more preferable interruption, and a welcome improvement to the half-baked, sh*t legal support of a f**ckwit barrister, who’s only thought is,.. can I string this ba*tard procedure out to buy a new BMW at the taxpayers’ expense?
Good luck in the private sector, Ray… minus legal aid teat?

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Jane Doe June 6, 2015 at 3:51 pm

I can see that your experience has left you very sad and bitter John and for that you have my sympathy. Is it possible, however, that your aggression has contributed to your lack of success in Court?

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John Dunn June 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm

No,.. I went into the Family Court system in the naive, but true belief (as most men stupidly do), that there would be justice in Family Law. (Guffaw here!) All the aggression occurred later, when I painfully realised, that fathers in UK law, were deemed disposable. But the good news is that I think some astute young men are waking up to the fact that women stopped marrying men 30 years ago, instead preferring to marry the government.
But,…Thanks for patronising me, Jane Doe, .. it’s much appreciated, given my obvious limited reach in comprehension, and need of your comforting thoughts.

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Teresa June 21, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Good services being rendered. Great piece!

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