The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’

Harriet Williams looks at the reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’.

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By Harriet Williams

Ken Clarke, defending his legal aid bill against further disaster in the Lords, said recently that the bill was about taking money “away from lawyers”, rather than the poor. In saying this he’s playing on the popular perception of law as a lucrative career, and there’s no doubt it can be.

Ken-Clarke-tubby But the idea that top barristers take legal aid cases does not stand up. Small legal aid cases, especially in criminal cases, are the preserve of young barristers, pupils or new tenants, and they get paid a pittance for the work.

As a former barrister, Kenneth Harry Clarke QC, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, knows this, and is exploiting the public’s ignorance about such work to put a positive spin on his failing reforms.

For the legal profession, there is a huge discrepancy between the enormous fees attracted by QCs and more senior barristers, and the desperately low wages of many pupil and junior barristers starting out.

Even if you have got past the twin barriers of going to Oxbridge and public schools – traditionally the places where barristers were mainly drawn from – and have got yourself onto a BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) at one of the capital’s numerous legal training schools (BPP currently charge £16,450 per year), there are more hurdles ahead.

After you’ve made it past the strenuous pupillage interview – there are currently fewer than 500 pupilages in London, and more than 2,500 applicants for them each year – you find yourself in a job in which you will struggle to survive on for 3-4 years, on top of an average of £36,000 debt.

This is before the government’s new plan for fee rises, coming into force this year.

This is a bleak picture for anyone whose family doesnt own a yacht and spend winters in Klosters, let alone people from low income families.

Beyond the initial pupillage, if you’re lucky enough to be taken on as a tenant in the chambers you’ve chosen, you’re self employed and get work from solicitors whom you have no legal right to sue if you are not paid.

 


See also:

New report warns legal aid cuts will pile pressure on MPs’ surgeries 14 Mar 2012

Spotlight shone on legal aid cuts as Clarke urged to think again 9 Mar 2012

The financial and personal cost of the legal aid cuts laid bare 7 Mar 2012

Osborne’s slashing of legal aid: Another false economy 10 Jan 2012

The poor and vulnerable will lose out most from the new Justice Bill 29 Jun 2011


 

I spoke to a barrister doing a third six (part two of the traineeship) at a chambers in the heart of Temple.

John* has been working at the chambers since early October, being sent to court every day to do bail applications, first appearances and work in youth courts, for which he gets paid about £50 per appearance, of which 14 per cent goes to chambers for rent.

So far he has only been paid for 29 out of 109 cases, with one solicitors firm in particular sending him on 20 cases and not paying him at all. Given that the total pay owed to him for this legal aid work adds up to about £1,000, this is a significant amount to him, but a pittance for the solicitors who have been given the money from the legal aid budget.

In addition to being poorly paid, there is a wider problem in that pupils are overworked and exploited for the work they do.

Another pupil, Oliver*, at a criminal chambers, tells me about a fellow pupil who has been given never-ending work, sent to her via email, without instructions or feedback. As a pupillage is supposed to be a learning experience, this is exploiting young people for their work without giving anything back.

Oliver, also on a third-six placement, found out after a year of hard work he wasn’t going to be taken on at his chambers, and was asked to leave immediately, chucked out of the office as if he’d done something wrong. This cavalier treatment of pupils demonstrates their position at the bottom of the food chain in a public school boy’s network.

Thomas*, at a leading criminal chambers, worked hard for a year as a legal clerk, before gaining his prestigious pupillage. On meeting him, his pupil supervisor said “you’re my bitch for the year”.

He is a barrister earning £1,000 per day for cases that his pupil prepares and advises on; Thomas himself lost out on £3,500 despite doing the work because someone didn’t fill out the correct form.

Ken Clarke’s clichéd references to fat cat lawyers play on a public impression that is understandable, given the huge fees QCs and top solicitors attract.

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a Tory government once again doing their best to keep the most interesting, respected professions for themselves, and leaving those from less privileged backgrounds to work in Tesco or struggle on the dole, because it‘s simply impossible to live on the fees paid for legal aid, unless you‘re very lucky, or very rich.

*Names have been changed to protect identities

 


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46 Responses to “The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’”

  1. landslidepurist

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: //t.co/twaRuZEY by @williamsharriet #LASPO

  2. Shakey

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: //t.co/twaRuZEY by @williamsharriet #LASPO

  3. Patron Press - #P2

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  4. Pulp Ark

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  5. leftlinks

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  6. LJM

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: //t.co/twaRuZEY by @williamsharriet #LASPO

  7. mr rottcodd

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: //t.co/twaRuZEY by @williamsharriet #LASPO

  8. False Economy

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/5d8NwhV9

  9. Iain

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/5d8NwhV9

  10. Solomon Schonfield

    "@FalseEcon: Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/11LyFxEt" @MaryRachel_McC

  11. SoundOff for Justice

    RT @leftfootfwd: The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/BUpOZi3l

  12. Dave Tilley

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/5d8NwhV9

  13. Teddy Mcnabb

    RT @leftfootfwd: The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/BUpOZi3l

  14. legalbond

    RT @leftfootfwd: Young barristers have it tough. The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/dp4O7nTy

  15. Alice in Blunderland

    RT @leftfootfwd: The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/BUpOZi3l

  16. Anonymous

    For the legal profession, there is a huge discrepancy between the enormous fees attracted by QCs and more senior barristers, and the desperately low wages of many pupil and junior barristers starting out.

    ===========

    It’s true of all jobs. However, with the legal profession, its magnified by the closed shop. When you allow people to organize and exclude others by getting the government to restrict who can and who can’t do what, you will get these effects.

    Axe the closed shop, and it becomes different.

  17. Staffordshire UNISON

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/5d8NwhV9

  18. Glauce Crook

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  19. brian hocknull

    RT @leftfootfwd: The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/BUpOZi3l

  20. BevR

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  21. Leicestershire JLD

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  22. Oxbridge Group

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  23. LabourLordsUK

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  24. JC

    RT @leftfootfwd: The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/BUpOZi3l

  25. MyProLaw

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke's 'fat cat legal aid lawyers' //t.co/2qHyXWfs

  26. NCAC

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/5d8NwhV9

  27. Interpreters GB

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  28. Gods & Monsters

    THOSE HELPFUL BASTARDS MT @soundoffjustice: RT @leftfootfwd: …life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/hfQfyoO2

  29. Jessica Eaton

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  30. Hugh Southey

    RT @leftfootfwd: The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/BUpOZi3l

  31. Ben Denison

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ //t.co/w39liESo (via @HumanRightsQC)

  32. Nick H.

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/5d8NwhV9

  33. Tim Worstall

    “there are currently fewer than 500 pupilages in London, and more than 2,500 applicants for them each year ”

    Newsflash: when there are five applicants for each job then the wages are too high.

  34. TheLawMap

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’ – LeftFootForward //t.co/J8jccGWC

  35. Political Planet

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: Harriet Williams looks at the reality of… //t.co/7ksA4pfI

  36. Mary-Rachel McCabe

    Why myths about legal aid lawyers' pay should not be used to destroy legal aid: //t.co/H1Yq6828

  37. Anonymous

    Oh yes, can’t have properly trained representatives for the 99%.

  38. Anonymous

    Ah yes, race to the bottom.

    Say, advertise a bankers job and you’ll get 100k applications. Minimum wage!

  39. tams_in

    Legal aid solicitors are also poorly paid and overworked.

  40. Jay Thompson

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: //t.co/twaRuZEY by @williamsharriet #LASPO

  41. Harriet Williams

    The reality of life as one of Ken Clarke’s ‘fat cat legal aid lawyers’: //t.co/twaRuZEY by @williamsharriet #LASPO

  42. Sstevens582

    Clearly you know nothing. I am on the BPTC course. There are 6 people in my class of 12 who are from Oxbridge and none of them have a pupillage. The rest all have 1st class degrees. The industry is incredibly competitive and the ones that do get jobs are lucky. ‘Newsflash’ (cute) – If you are lucky to get a job, you cant complain about what your being paid. Moron.

  43. Mr. Sensible

    Tim Worstall I find it quite disterbing that your first reaction is that wages should be slashed. That’s really a way to improve the economy isn’t it…

    At any rate, these legal aid reforms are just trying to appeal to 1 stereotype, and in so doing damaging access to justice.

  44. Anonymous

    Crispin Blunt is trying the same stunt by claiming court interpreters earn 6 figure salaries, even though it is a mathematical impossibility. Seems to be a bit of a theme going on at the Ministry of Justice.

  45. Yaa

    In fact, Pupils tend to earn in the region of £12,000 a year in the centre of London. Hardly riches!

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