Let’s make legal fees work better

by Ian Lucas

The perennial argument between government and lawyers is with us again. The Today programme reverberates once more with the arguments of the government that too much is spent on legal aid and, on the other hand, by the legal profession, that the payments are necessary to maintain principled support for an independent legal system.

As a lawyer and former whip in the ministry of Justice, I know that both sides have right on their side. But this dialogue of the deaf must end. It serves no purpose.

I suggest that we adopt a simple principle to make public money work for the benefit of the legal profession and for society as a whole.

The amount paid by the British taxpayer to the legal profession is huge. It is a big mistake to believe that the money involved is limited to the legal aid budget – which in itself amounts to around £2.2 billion. On the contrary, most money is paid to firms who do not carry out legal aid work: to commercial firms of lawyers and to counsel and other legal advisers who provide specialist advice to the myriad of public authorities which exist in the UK.

These include local authorities, regulatory authorities, statutory undertakings and all of the other organisations set up to administer and deliver public services.

This gives an enormous amount of power to the purchaser of legal services, power which I believe should be directed to the public good. Procurement gives government an opportunity and government in its various forms, the biggest single procurer of legal services, needs to wake up to this fact.

One of the issues which should be addressed is access to the legal profession itself. Access is expensive and the profession is becoming less, not more, accessible, to those without a private income. We all know that the cost of higher education has tripled and, for a  student hoping to be a lawyer, that is just the start. After a law degree is secured, the cost of a solicitor’s final exam place, necessary to qualify, is around £10,000 plus a year’s living expenses.

Training for the Bar is similarly costly. Both trainee solicitors and barristers must then seek ever diminishing numbers of training places, incurring more debt as they do so.

At the same time, expensive legal services are being paid for from the public purse. Some of the fees paid are astronomical. Some of the incomes of senior counsel and solicitors derived from legal aid are huge.

Like me, many of those lawyers qualified with a government grant. I received a full grant at university and also for my solicitors’ final examination, as it was then called.

The legal profession has an interest in the qualification of new lawyers. Society has an interest in ensuring that the lawyers are not selected on the basis of their parents’ wealth.

It is time for government to say that no payment of public money for legal services will be made unless the recipient pays a proportion of the money paid towards the cost of training new entrants to the profession for the future.

This would help create a fund, derived from the public purse, to ensure fair access to the legal profession. It will help ensure that we do not return to a legal profession reliant on private wealth and connections for its entrants.

I believe this a simple and fair proposal to make public money work better for the public good. I hope the legal profession will consider it.

Ian Lucas is Labour MP for Wrexham and shadow minister for Africa and the Middle East,

Tags: , , ,

4 Responses to “Let’s make legal fees work better”

  1. Nick says:

    It’s a union. It’s a closed shop. The whole purpose is to drive up the price and restrict the supply.

    End result you, as part of the government, and a lawyer, are screwing us out of money and justice.

    Not surprising then that you make a 45,000 profit out of expenses.

  2. swatantra says:

    If the recipient has to pay a ‘proportion’ out of the state legal aid, lawyers will simply up their fees, which somewhat defeats the object, rather like insurance companies do at present.
    No, just establish an independent board to regulate fairer fees charged by lawyers.
    And the State should actually be providing grants cum loans to train law students and barristers, but ensuring that all law fimrs take their share of apprenticeships, interns and fitters mates.

  3. stronghouse says:

    What should be the peoples justice system is owned by the legal profession and the rich. Justice can be skewd for those with deep pockets and unaffordable for the majority. Hiding behind reams of English loophole law the profession baffles us with bull.
    Banish English loophole law in favour of a more simplified system with legislation written in understandable English and accessible to all online. Give the citizen a system that they can understand and use for themselves. Conveyed the sale of my last property myself D.I.Y justice would be better than unaffordable none.

  4. You can always fire your lawyer if you aren’t happy, and if you aren’t getting good, responsive service or good advice at a fair fee, you should. However, your lawyer has no obligation to forward your file to you or your new lawyer unless the old account has been settled. Your new lawyer may not be able to do anything without the old file, but that’s the point. It’s called a solicitor’s lien, and it’s quite normal.

Leave a Reply