'A committed lawyer can save the day’
The Times Student Law supplement is published today. They consider whether entering criminal law is still financially viable. Excerpts below:
Criminal law combines drama, human interest and intellectual challenge with a deep sense of public service, but can aspiring barristers and solicitors still make a career in an underfunded criminal justice system?
Experienced practitioners warn of a growing recruitment crisis in a poorly paid, ageing practice area where publicly funded rates are so low that junior barristers often find themselves effectively paying to work. The average age of duty solicitors, who provide a vital 24/7 service to those accused of a crime, is 50.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is campaigning to improve legal aid rates for junior barristers. It also has a wellbeing initiative, to support those with emotional or financial difficulties, and a bursary scheme. Emma Fenn, the CBA assistant secretary, says that new recruits are the “lifeblood” of the independent Bar and the wider society deserves the “brightest and best”.
Meanwhile, Richard Atkinson, the chairman of the Law Society’s criminal law committee and the managing partner at the Kent branch of Tuckers, has been discussing the possibility of developing a career path with roots in prosecution and defence with Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, and Angela Rafferty, QC, the CBA chairwoman.
The Law Society has launched a legal challenge against the most recent legal aid fee cut, but warns that, even if its legal challenge is successful, criminal defence lawyers are “already becoming extinct” in some areas. Joe Egan, the society’s president, says: “It would be wholly irresponsible of the Law Society to encourage young lawyers with high student debt to enter an area of practice where there appears no prospect of it ever being economically viable.”
Without defence lawyers, the rule of law will be further threatened, he warns, adding: “It is only the government that can avert this situation.”