in Changing Jobs, Legal Job Market Reports, Legal Profession, Staying in Your Job

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Updated Advice to Criminal Duty Solicitors

Should I stay or should I go? Crime Job Market Report

I hope this article assists crime solicitors and does not depress anyone too much. It is a reflection of the harsh reality of crime regardless of the latest government interference in funding. Each time we get close to new contract deadlines or the next duty solicitor rota change we have loads of crime solicitors blocking our switchboards with the following queries:

  1. How to get out of crime and into more lucrative fields.
  2. What we think of the state of the current market.
  3. Is it possible to do regulatory work or white collar work.
  4. Should they go freelance or stay salaried.
  5. Is there any locum work for crime solicitors.

The answers to these questions are as follows:

  1.  With difficulty and lots of perseverance.
  2. Awful and no signs of improvement.
  3. No
  4. Stay salaried.
  5. No

Going into a little bit more detail….

  1.  To get out of crime you need to spend a considerable amount of time getting work experience in other fields of law. Crime experience counts for nothing. Not a bean. In fact it goes against you. I think as a rule of thumb you need about 3 months solid work experience to make the move from one field to another. The work experience needs to be private practice, not local authority or anything else. However local authority locum work can be a godsend for a lot of people looking to make the move if you can get a generalist locum role. Very difficult. How do you cover your mortgage payments if you are volunteering at a law firm? I don’t think there is any other way but if you find one please let me know!
  2. The market is awful. There are crime firms with lots of financial problems. There are crime firms pretending they don’t have financial problems. There are also crime firms who think that duty solicitors only need to earn £15k a year and that they should be grateful for this amount. If you have a relatively well paid role and your employers are not damaging your health, either mentally or physically, stay with them if you can.
  3. White collar or regulatory work is very specialist and requires previous experience. With most of the commercial firms that do it you also need to have city experience, outstanding academic qualifications and a good pedigree. Working for Bloggs & Co Solicitors doing Magistrates and Youth Court work is not going to land you a dream white collar role. Outstanding academic qualifications are not DDD at A level followed up with a 2.2 from an old polytechnic. We are talking AAA at A level followed up with a 2.1 or 1st from Bristol, Oxbridge or London Universities, plus a very good reason for wanting to work in general crime in the first place (an attack of temporary insanity does not suffice).
  4. Freelance or salaried tends to be a lifestyle choice. Working on a freelance basis does not guarantee you a £100k salary. Far from it. Most seem to be sat around waiting for work that never arrives as law firms avoid giving them any in order not to pay their fees. A lot end up just getting £1-2k per month from a monthly fee plus their duty slots. Very few earn more than this. I challenge any freelancer to produce evidence of an income from freelance work above £40k in the last tax year. Go on, please prove me wrong. So many salaried duty solicitors get in touch at this level to ask if they should go freelance and my advice is always the same – it never seems to pay. So many freelancers get in touch complaining that they haven’t had any work to do for a few weeks and they are worried about their mortgage. The problem is that it is always cheaper for a law firm to keep any work generated internal and not outsource to you as a freelancer. Until the market really goes belly up and everyone is freelance you are at the bottom of the earnings pile. Where freelancing really works is when someone has a reason for not wanting to work full time – so if you are a ski instructor in the winter you can work as a duty solicitor in the summer and generate enough income to survive. In my opinion if you are getting more than £30k as a duty solicitor you are much better off staying as you are. If you get less than this you may want to think about a longer term plan to get another string to your bow that is going to pay and top up your income from crime.
  5. Locum posts at the moment rarely crop up in crime. However I suspect this may change when everyone is freelancing and firms find that there are less candidates available out there to cover on low wages when someone is ill or off on maternity leave. Give it 2-3 years and you may well see a change in this market. If Crapita or Serco get their hands on the crime contracts then there will almost certainly be a demand for locums, as the levels of sickness will rocket. At the moment it is not possible for most solicitors to be ill, but I suspect many will sense the opportunity to pull a fast one at fairly regular intervals if some multinational company is running a contract to supply defence solicitor services. After all there will be union representation, a pension, employment contracts, flexible hours, regular training provision and plenty of sick leave on offer….

So hopefully this has answered every question apart from “I have just been made redundant and need a new job. Can you help me?”  The answer is ‘possibly – register a CV with us and we will keep you posted. Nothing much happening at the moment.’

If you get in touch saying “I need a new job – my current salary is £37k and I want to improve on this with my next role”, please excuse us if one of our consultants bursts out in uncontrollable laughing. Now is not the time to be making career moves unless you are very, very lucky….

This advice has been relevant since 2012. It still is today.

Response in 2016 to this article from an anonymous Crime Solicitor with 20 years PQE:

“I am a criminal solicitor, [20+ years PQE] and very much enjoyed reading your article re crime. I say ” enjoyed ” but this is somewhat misleading!  The enjoyment extends only to your brutal knowledge of the truth and expression of the reality of the matter; whilst I could send you my last accounts showing a trading profit in excess of £40,000 thereby proving you wrong that is not the point.  10 years ago I was sliding in a downward direction from earnings of £100k and since January of this year have had in real terms very little income. What you say regarding the almost worthless transferable asset of 24 years crime experience is also true ; I have tried ( because I still enjoy the advocacy aspect of this calling ) to move into another [fairly related field of law] at a very junior level and nobody is remotely interested. Duty solicitor, higher rights, ability to deal with the most demanding clients and judges counts for absolutely nothing. If you could advise me in any way as to how to escape this wretched job I should be very much obliged to hear from you. For what it is worth I think the charitable aspect of your business is nothing short of fantastic!”

Jonathan Fagan is a director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He is a former crime solicitor who left the high street in 2002 to concentrate on recruitment and other interests. Whilst this may have left him slightly cynical and jaded about crime as a field of law to specialise in, our recruitment activities give him a fairly good idea of the general market conditions, hence this article. If you have any questions linked to the answers above, please avoid calling us if possible. We say this in the nicest way – email is much preferred! Many thanks in advance.

Comment from JOHN:

Any solicitor who is incapable of earning more than £35k a year should consider an alternative career. That maybe suitable for a junior solicitor but it is a pathetic salary for a seasoned professional. I have been practising criminal law for 20 years and earn a minimum of £50-60k per year. Admittedly though I balance it with some private work as well.

As to accredited reps – it is my experience that a prospective trainee solicitor improves their chances of employment if they are accredited. As for non-solicitors, the accreditation can provide you with extra income on top of a main job if you are available to attend police stations on behalf of law firms in the evenings or at weekends.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk