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 Concern as young lawyers abandon criminal practice

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PostSubject: Concern as young lawyers abandon criminal practice   Sun Sep 07, 2008 4:56 am

Lord Rodger’s nephew one of many to quit

By John Bynorth,
Home Affairs Editor

A NEPHEW of one of the country's most senior judges has criticised recent
government changes aimed at easing the pressure on Scotland's busy
court system after quitting his job as a criminal defence lawyer.
Alan Rodger, 33, was keen to follow the distinguished career of his
uncle Lord Rodger of Earlsferry. Lord Rodger is a law lord in the House
of Lords and was previously Scotland's lord president and lord
justice-general, as well as a former solicitor-general and lord
advocate under the most recent UK Tory government.
His nephew saw his ambitions dashed by his fears over the future of
the profession, and he left the Glasgow practice where he worked only
one year after completing his traineeship to become a local authority
lawyer. According to the latest statistics, Rodger is only the latest
young recruit to abandon a career in criminal law.

He warned that the future of the independent criminal bar is under
threat after recent 6% cuts to the Legal Aid budget and a 44% reduction
in cases going to trial since police were given greater discretion to
use fixed penalties and cases have been increasingly dealt with by
pre-trial pleadings.
The Law Society has assigned staff to advise some of the 36 trainee
solicitors who have either lost their traineeships with firms or had
them deferred since March, when the summary justice reforms were
introduced.
Rodger said: "There is a bad-news feeling within the criminal
defence profession which is filtering down to assistants and trainees.
When I left, a lot of people in similar positions to me were very
concerned. Our eyes are open to it and the reforms are such that the
cases are drying up.
"What's happening with the way the criminal defence profession is
being run and funded makes it unattractive when you are expected to
work such long hours, including at weekends, and be on the phone 24/7.
For young people the criminal defence profession doesn't hold sway the
way it did. The Scottish government's attitude is somewhat unfavourable
towards young people wanting to go into criminal defence, and a lot
have moved over to work for the procurator fiscal.
"The government's reforms are moving towards an Americanised system
with plea bargaining up front. It is not in the interests of justice."
Vincent McGovern, of the Hamilton Bar Association, which represents
around 300 lawyers, said the number of young people entering the
criminal defence profession was "pitiful", with only one female
criminal lawyer in the jurisdiction in her 20s. He said: "The public
don't yet need to worry about hordes of accused not being represented,
but the problem will occur in five years."
Gordon Addison, secretary of the Falkirk Faculty, recently made two
solicitors redundant and cancelled another lawyer's contract as the
reforms and credit crunch hit his business. He added: "It's a rotten,
shitty job, and high-street lawyers work extremely hard. It's
understandable if young people don't want to be part of that."
The Scottish Legal Aid Board is conducting research into how many
trainee solicitors are staying in the profession and is considering
touring careers fairs to boost recruitment.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "If there was evidence to
suggest the private sector could no longer cope in Glasgow, we would
look at a range of options including expanding the Public Defence
Solicitors' Office numbers in the city. Many aspiring solicitors are
keen to work for them."
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