The recruitment world is buoyant, but for legal aid lawyers problems persist.

Judging by the legal press, announcements of new staff from firms, and the amount of emails I get from employment agencies, the recruitment world must be pretty buoyant. Firms are taking on new staff, new partners in lateral hires - whatever that means - and for a (smallish) fee you can recruit locums of all descriptions.

Down on the high street it is a different story. Well, at the legal aid end of the high street, past the pound shops and charity shops. Hiring for legal aid is cumbersome and over-regulated. Getting a crime duty solicitor is rather like trying to find an equine unicorn lawyer. If you are lucky enough to find anyone you have to time it for the two dates in the year when the duty rotas change.

All legal aid is closely regulated so you have to consider accreditation, and supervisory status. This has become a tick-box exercise with more regard to fulfilling the requirement than actual experience to do the job. There seems to be a new sub-profession of “guns for hire”: lawyers willing to be an external supervisor or park their duty slots at a price.

I would think that most solicitors of a certain age did some legal aid in the dim and distant past. It is where they cut their teeth, learned skills and made an ass of themselves in court before going on to get a proper job in privately funded work. That is disappearing. No one wants to train in legal aid. The colleges are pushing out people trained in other areas. 

That opportunity to offer general advice to the public has gone. Legal aid does offer sellable skills if not billable hours. If you can advise someone about buying a secondhand fridge for 50 quid you might pick some law that will help you advise someone buying a secondhand jumbo jet for 50 million.

David Pickup is a senior partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott