Society defends solicitors over legal aid

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The Law Society president has reacted to negative news coverage concerning the growth in the number of solicitors.

The Society president Linda Lee has written to the Daily Mail newspaper in response to an article published yesterday under the headline ‘Now we have more lawyers than police thanks to legal aid’.

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The story reported Law Society figures revealing the rise in the number of solicitors and barristers over the past decade. The article noted that there are now 165,000 lawyers, compared to 142,363 police officers in the country.

The article went on to cover the increase in the number of lawyers employed by local authorities, the average starting salary of trainees, the Society’s campaign over the legal aid cuts and votes for prisoners.

The article made no distinction between legal aid and private practice lawyers, or indicate how many of the total number of lawyers actually did publicly funded work.

In a letter to the paper’s editor, Lee wrote: ‘I cannot understand the reference in your headline to legal aid causing the increase in the number of lawyers.

'Over the past ten years, the number of firms doing legal aid has fallen from over 5,000 to under 3,000.

‘Only 6% of lawyers in the UK undertake work which is funded by legal aid. The debate around legal aid has been going on for a long time and it is an issue for all political parties and all sections of our society.

‘The budget has been frozen in cash terms since 2004 and it has already fallen significantly in real terms.

'According to official figures, the average pay of a young qualified legal aid solicitor is £25,000, less than your quoted average starting salary for a trainee.

‘The average legal aid solicitor working in the criminal courts earns less than that of a sewage worker. Whatever is driving the numbers, it certainly is not legal aid.

‘When legal aid was set up in 1949 approximately 80% of the population was eligible for legal aid. By 2000 this had dropped to 50% and by 2007 more than two thirds of the population were not eligible for legal aid.

'If you do the simple mathematics this indicates less of a demand for legal aid lawyers.’

Lee went on to say that the article ‘inaccurately’ reported that the Law Society campaign ‘Sound off for Justice’ is against the government’s cuts to taxpayer-funded legal aid.

She said: ‘This is simply not true… The "Sound off for Justice" campaign agrees that cuts have to be made. The question is how we do this?

'The Law Society itself in its alternative reforms package is suggesting cuts of £384 million which is greater than the government required savings of £350 million pounds.’

The full letter can be read at the Sound off for Justice page.

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