Duty Solicitors in a Pickle – how not to get ripped off
in Careers Advice, Legal Profession

Duty Solicitors in a Pickle – how not to get ripped off

We have written about this before some years ago, but it seems that there are solicitors firms out there who are trying to rip off duty solicitors and this is advice on how not to get scammed by crime firms recruiting duty solicitors.

It seems that there are a couple of firms in England who have worked out that they are able to sign up duty solicitors as new employees or consultants, get their forms and details lodged with the LAA (Legal Aid Agency), and then a few days before the rota is about to start they advise the consultant or employee that the job has unfortunately gone and they are no longer able to offer them work or a contract.

This seemingly has the desired effect of giving the solicitors firm more rota slots and leaving the poor new employee or consultant with no work for 6 months. We were aware of something like this occurring many years ago when a London firm signed a load of new consultants but got rid of them all a few days before the contract was about to start. At the time we were cynically minded to think that the solicitors firm had managed to scam a load of duty solicitor slots out of those consultants, but we didn’t hear anything else about it.

However we took a call a few days ago from a duty solicitor who had discovered that this had happened not only to him in his current firm, but also to a number of other consultants. Such are the joys of social media, it is now difficult to pull the same trick a number of times without someone noticing if they are minded to go on to the internet and share their experiences.

We understand that the consultants in question are joining together to launch an action against the solicitors firm, although we are not entirely sure what the action will be and what it will be based on. *Since we have written this article the firm appear to have gone bust!

One of the problems we have seen with duty solicitors signing up to law firms for the bare minimum term of 6 months using the bare minimum of contractual arrangements (i.e. just agreeing to be a consultant for a set figure, complete the minimum amount of work required and the amount they are paid).

We rarely come across duty solicitors who realise that in these circumstances they are unlikely to be classed as employees and need to be very careful as to what they agree and how they agree it. For example there are not many duty solicitors out there who have formal written contracts in place confirming the terms and confirming what will happen if termination occurs.

Some years ago we were involved in a court case where a solicitors firm took on a duty solicitor, only for them to cancel the agreement before the duty solicitor was able to start. This case finished up with almost a quarter of a million pounds of costs, but the solicitors firm caved in and paid the duty solicitor damages of £22,000 (plus over £150k in costs) because he had a contract in place from the start (provided by us).

Without that contract he would have been very unlikely to get anything out of the solicitors firm as there was nothing in writing to confirm what would happen if there was a breach. Cancelling someone’s contract a few days before a rota is due to start is clearly a breach of terms, as one of the terms ought to be that if the contract is cancelled for any reason other than an act of nature (e.g. an earthquake hits the Legal Aid Agency’s offices and they lose all their records), then the firm pay the duty solicitor consultant damages.

Over the years we have been involved in recruitment, and somewhat reluctantly got involved with duty solicitor placements, we have seen duty solicitors get shafted on a number of occasions. It is mainly because most duty solicitors are too trusting of crime firms, some of whom are run by absolute sharks and others by quite honourable and decent people. When something like this does happen and payment is not made or wages aren’t paid or consultancy fees not transferred into the duty’s bank account, it is fairly rare to see a duty solicitor actually take action against the firm to recover the money due. This is most unfortunate because in quite a good number of cases the duty solicitor has a watertight case and should take action immediately to recover the money owed.

The small claims procedures at county court are very easy to use and highly recommended for all amounts over £100. It really is a straightforward process to get the money owed to you, although enforcement can be fun. Think very carefully before you give up on a payment due as not only will you always regret it, but you are also consigning others to the same fate because the crime firms run by sharks who have ripped you off will proceed to do exactly the same to someone else and potentially a number of people after them. It is only when people stand up for their rights and doing the right thing that this behaviour can be stopped.

Crime solicitors can be their own worst enemies at times, and they really ought to have a bit more gumption about them when it comes to taking civil actions. It always surprised me that some of the toughest advocates I’ve known bulk at the chance to recover money because it is somewhat alien to them, and they think that they only need to be a tough advocate when they are in the magistrates or crown court. Don’t hide behind a stone, get up and take the action you know you ought to. Don’t let the sharks get away with it.

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