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15/02/2007

Things fall apart…

the centre cannot hold. Not a good week, all in all.

When the legal highlight of the week is some scurrilous story about the DPP and the Criminal Bar Association spokesperson enjoying illict souvlaki together, then we are in trouble. Although two details stood out.

A £2 tip on a £26 bill? That is taking limitations on state legal expenditure into the realms of gracelessness.

The other detail is that new entrants to the Bar are apparently presented with negligees and a place to sleep. Perhaps I should have gone to the Bar after all.

The slow unravelling of legal aid continues as the criminal system is facing a work to rule strike by legal aid solicitors. Although the aims are certainly laudable, this makes me wince slightly at the appropriation of trade union terminology to describe the actions of middle class professionals. Still, la luta continua.

Also miserable to see, a senior County Court Judge has described the civil court system, at least at County Court level as ‘in crisis’, due to staff cuts and lack of training. It doesn’t surprise me that this is coming from a London based Judge, given my own experience.

I have considerable sympathy for court staff, who have been through a rough time, with worse to come. But it has been noticeable that mistakes and failures have been on the increase even over the last year. I’d have to be honest, when the court apparently loses an application – sent to a Judge for a time estimate and never seen again, for instance – it is bloody annoying, particularly when the matter is time critical. The usual response of ‘we’ll look into this and get back to you’ never results in getting back to me. This has happened a fair few times. Then very often, orders are not drawn up and sent out. Hearings are cancelled or shifted to another court at the very last moment, as in the morning of the hearing, which is fun for client, Counsel and us. We haven’t had a major, case-affecting issue yet, but it is a distinct possibility. Quite what happens then, e.g. liability for extra costs incurred, is a moot point.

And then very sadly, there is this story about Matthew Courtney, a Freshfields associate. I wouldn’t presume to speculate on what might be involved in Mr Courtney’s death, but the back story of life as a magic circle trainee/associate is illuminating and depressing. 2400 lawyers, 450 of which are partners (and likely to be fewer in future if current trends persist). So, at the very best, a 1 in 4-and-a-bit chance of making partner for each associate. This is starting to look like a pyramid scheme.

[Interesting followup at Legal Week. (Thanks Charon). The comment from ‘a rival firm’ that the average billable hours expected would be 1600-1800 hours per year means an expectation, as an average, of about 34-35 hours per week billable, which is taking no account of holiday, statutory days off, etc.. So about 7 hours per workday billable hours, regardless of holidays, as an expected average. Which, should one actually take leave entitlement and statutory holidays, equates to pretty much 8 hours per day billable. Guesstimating a ratio of billable to non billable hours at generous 4:1 (although god knows what these firms count as billable), that is a 10 hour workday, every workday. And that is the average hours expected. Average doesn’t make partner, of course…]

At least as a wannabe legal aid trainee, I’m spared all that. In fact, I’m spared even the challenge and competitiveness of applying for posts, there being none.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

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