Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Consultation on changes to Legal Aid - closes 15th Oct

I've used solicitors on many occasions for advice on both personal and business issues. My general experience with them sadly has not been good and I have often wished I had chosen to represent myself instead. Some of my complaints about them were as follows:

  • Losing vital documents
  • Being incredibly tardy in house conveyancing, rendering us unnecessarily homeless for a month
  • Giving advice that I later checked and found to be completely wrong
  • Giving me the impression I would be represented through family court hearings by a solicitor and then fielding trainees at the actual hearings instead
  • The trainees in question then not taking proper instructions or information from me, so ultimately misrepresenting me in court (where I was not allowed to address the judge myself to correct anything due to being officially represented by a solicitor)
  • Acting like I had no say or possible knowledge about anything. Telling me how my case would be handled and what I must do instead of asking - and often not even bothering to tell me and just leaving me in the dark.

And always, always billing me in full for all of the above without any qualm or hesitation and pursuing me for full and immediate settlement with the charm and tenacity of a starving bulldog (suddenly *then* they can write a letter properly!) if I demurred. I tried to complain to The Law Society on several occasions, but found out that the primary purpose of this solicitor-run form of so-called self-policing seemed to be persuading people not to complain and being extremely reluctant to act on anything whatsoever. (Nowadays this service is independent from the profession and run by the Legal Ombudsman, to hopefully better effect!)

In short, if one is on limited funds with no access to Legal Aid and wishes to carry on with life, it is necessary to pay up and shut up and hope to never need to use a solicitor again.

I will hopefully never use a solicitor again. I would represent myself now in most legal circumstances, quite confident in the knowledge that I was likely to do a better job than any solicitor I have ever consulted would have done. (More information on this below.)

My experiences with barristers were very different: I have used them on two separate issues and they were excellent both times, putting the briefing solicitor to shame. Perhaps - even in the days of maximum Legal Aid - one still got what one paid for when it came to legal representation.

And I will even concede that some provincial solicitors might offer (not bark) accurate (not guesswork made to sound authoritative) advice (not instructions: the client is supposed to instruct the solicitor, not the other way round) and carry out tasks properly (not carelessly, making expensive and time-consuming mistakes) in a timely way to suit the client, (rather than their own business knowing that they will get paid either way).

And that is before we even get onto the issue of any potential hidden motives solicitors might have. It is not unheard of for firms who generate most of their income from a local authority to seem less helpful towards client families who are trying to defend themselves against the same authority, for example. The family could never be absolutely sure any problems were due to this hidden motive, but the suspicion is sometimes there.

Representing oneself in court can be less daunting than many people might think. The Clerk of the Court can supply information about procedures and schedules and I hear they can be extremely helpful, if approached in the right way. Case law and statutes are both published online and freely available now, as is other useful information and the process of self education regarding one's own individual issue that comes from becoming a litigant in person can be fascinating, as well as time-consuming and infuriating in turn.

BUT if you are ever in a tight spot and you feel you need a solicitor or barrister and you do not feel willing or able to research the law and precedents yourself as well as a professional might be able to, or that legal representation might offer you a better chance of success, you might be interested in responding to this consultation on the proposed changes to Legal Aid.

Here is some explanatory background information from the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association and home educators have been approached for responses by Ian Dowty, a barrister who has given much of his time to help home educators to very good effect.

The message I received reads as follows:

URGENT -please consider responding to a short (closes on 15th Oct!) consultation, against further cuts to legal aid. http://www.clsa.co.uk/index.php

In the years I have known Ian Dowty, he has been the one helping home educators-today he has written asking for people to consider responding to further cuts in legal aid. He's never asked me for help before, it's always been the other way round.

Ian said: "I am sorry to trouble you but if I don't I (and many others) might not be around to help when needed if Grayling succeeds in further slashing fees for legal aid work. He is also bent on decimating (unfortunately greater than its literal meaning) the number of firms allowed to do legal aid work.

Recently the profession defeated his previous scheme as he had failed properly to consult having hidden from us the result of research he had commissioned which was not favourable to his intentions. He proceeded nevertheless. Having lost he is now embarking on a 2 week consultation before carrying on as before. We are already halfway through that period!

All the details have been set out at http://www.clsa.co.uk/index.php?q=Request-to-non-lawyers-to-respond-through-the-hub

If I could persuade you to write in to the consultation and to let people know the position and ask them too to write in to object, maybe something would happen. In any event if we do nothing, it most certainly will.

A million thanks"

I suspect this was not exactly the hoped-for post when I was asked to blog the issue! But I hope it helps anyway as many people will have derived benefit and support from Legal Aid and I hope many others will also be able to do so in future.


Blogger Danae said...

I think it's a terrible sign when one of the bulwarks against the marauding state is eroded like this.
We are sliding backwards to feudal times.

5:19 pm, October 08, 2014  

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