Criminal defence sector – do we sit back and watch the car crash?

Criminal defence sector – do we sit back and watch the car crash?

By Adam Makepeace

I am more convinced than ever that the criminal defence sector is about to suffer a catastrophic failure. There is a solution, but someone needs to start working on it now.

The looming fee cuts of 17.5% - after years of reducing fees and declining volumes of work as a result of falling crime - will see off any existing firms which carry "fat", by which I mean any organisational infrastructure (such as management, HR, IT etc).

At the same time (and quite rightly), future contracting requirements are likely to demand increased investment in technology. So, that will be the end of those firms currently behind the times, as they will have to deal with the investment, change in culture and cuts all at the same time.

It might be possible to absorb cuts if there were significant increases in volume of work, but, whichever way the wind blows here in our perfect storm, the result is the same. The sector desperately needs consolidation. But if Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling decides there should be limited consolidation (for reasons of political expediency), then income streams will not be sufficiently consolidated for firms to survive. And, regrettably (for the most bullish advocates of consolidation, of which I am one), it is highly likely that aggressive consolidation will also result in market failure; the consolidators in this sector have neither the management resources, expertise, working capital or balance sheet strength to really deliver it.

Such inevitable problems loom large on the horizon, yet we have not even started down the road

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About the author:

Adam joined Tuckers Solicitors as the Practice Director in September 2011, having previously served four years as Practice Director of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, the country’s largest civil legal aid provider.

A Solicitor by background, Adam has had a diverse career in private practice including spells as a residential conveyancer on the one hand and dealing with heavyweight spread betting litigation and international arbitration for Russian oligarchs on the other.

He turned his back on private practice in 2005, after completing his MBA, and he now devotes all his time to the better management of law firms.  As a former legal aid Solicitor, he is sensitive to the passion that legal aid lawyers have to provide the best quality legal services to the most vulnerable in our society.  However, it is his mission to provide a framework for the delivery of legal aid that is commercially sustainable in the face of repeated cuts to the fees paid for legal aid services.