The future of criminal law is bleak, according to most respondents to a new Law Society of England and Wales survey aimed at junior lawyers.
81% of those who completed the survey said criminal law is not an attractive long-term career.
“The results of our survey come as no surprise given criminal legal aid lawyers haven’t seen a meaningful fee increase in 25 years,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.
“The responses from aspiring solicitors underline the imperative for substantial government investment to protect the future of this crucial but endangered profession.”
Respondents point to the low pay, long hours and poor work/life balance which criminal defence solicitors face.
“What other business is still charging 1995 rates???” asks one, while another says “underpaid and overworked. It is absolutely exhausting, and the pay does not reflect the hours and work put in”.
Duty solicitors can spend a day in court, all night at the police station and then be back to work the next morning.
Our research shows vast areas of the country with few duty solicitors and the number of firms holding a criminal legal contract has nearly halved since 2007.
Those that remain struggle to recruit and retain stuff who prefer other areas of the law or even crossing the courtroom to the Crown Prosecution Service where better pay and conditions are available.
“Only 4% of duty solicitors are aged under 35 and the survey demonstrates why the next generation of lawyers don’t see criminal defence as a viable career,” added I. Stephanie Boyce.
“But the work they do is so important – it ensures access to justice for everyone, early advice which can bring swift resolutions for victims and defendants alike, and vital checks on the power of the state to arrest and detain and put a person through trial.
“Without a functioning criminal defence, the court backlogs will inevitably endure leaving victims, witnesses and defendants in limbo and soon we will not have a criminal justice system worthy of the name.”
Notes to editors
See the full survey results
139 people completed the survey, with 93% aged between 18 and 35.
As of February 2022, there were just 1,062 firms holding a criminal legal aid contract compared with 2,010 in October 2007.
View our duty solicitor heatmaps
Watch our video featuring the Law Society president and criminal defence practitioners
Get in touch with our press office below if you would like to speak to young criminal defence solicitor, Stephen Davies.
Responses to why criminal law is not an attractive career included:
- “Poor money. Poor working environment. Actively maligned by governments. Limited career opportunities. Crushing debt. No trust in the state not to make the above worse. Absolutely certain that the state will do what it can you to undermine this profession.”
- “The conditions of work, having to work long and unsociable hours and for very little remuneration and no prospect of an increase. The treatment received by police and the courts treating you as a burden when you are only trying to uphold the clients right to be treated fairly. Having to fight tooth and nail for every expense with the Legal Aid Agency and argue for every penny.”
- “I worked as a solicitor practising criminal law for six years before I made the move to commercial law last year. My reason for moving was simply the poor pay with prospect of it rising. As a single person the salary was fine but as a parent it is not sustainable. Having moved to commercial law within a year I have already doubled the salary that I received as a criminal solicitor.”
- “It is underfunded, has been for years. I do not trust that the government would ever fund it adequately to allow a solicitor a good wage and quality of life. Why go to university and the huge debts to earn the wage they do, the hours they work and antisocial hours at that.”
- “No work-life balance, no prospects for a family, very little pay, too emotionally draining without enough support, not respected by the public.”
- “There is instability, a lack of resources, underfunding & with the cost of living increasing, a very real risk of simply not being able to make ends meet or have any sort of work-life balance as a criminal solicitor moving forwards.”
- “It is a highly stigmatised practice area where you can often find yourself publicly rebuked for doing your job. Similarly, doing that same job you can end up being paid less than minimum wage.”
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Press office contact: Ruth Murphy | 020 8049 3879 | Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100