Who wants to be a duty attorney?

The future of criminal law is bleak, according to most respondents to a new Law Society of England and Wales survey for young lawyers.

81% of those who responded to the survey said criminal law is not an attractive long-term career.

“The results of our survey are not surprising given that criminal legal aid lawyers have not seen a significant increase in their fees in 25 years,” said Law Society President I. Stephanie. Boyce.

“The responses from aspiring lawyers underscore the imperative for substantial government investment to protect the future of this crucial but endangered profession.”

Respondents point to the low pay, long hours, and poor work/life balance faced by criminal defense attorneys.

“Which other company is still charging 1995 rates???” one asks, while another says “underpaid and overworked”. It is absolutely exhausting and the pay does not reflect the hours and work put in”.

Duty counsel can spend a day in court, all night at the police station, and then return to work the next morning.

Our research shows large areas of the country with few duty counsel and the number of companies holding a criminal legal contract has almost halved since 2007.

Those who remain struggle to recruit and retain people who prefer other areas of law or even cross the courtroom to the Crown, where better pay and conditions are available.

“Only 4% of duty counsel are under the age of 35, and the survey shows why the next generation of attorneys do not view criminal defense as a viable career,” added I. Stephanie Boyce.

“But the work they do is so important – it ensures access to justice for all, early advice that can bring speedy resolutions for victims and defendants, and vital checks on state power. to arrest and detain and put a person on trial.

“Without a functioning criminal defense, court backlogs will inevitably persist, leaving victims, witnesses and defendants in limbo and soon we will not have a proper criminal justice system.”

Notes to Editors

See the full survey results

139 people responded to the survey, 93% of whom are between 18 and 35 years old.

From February 2022only 1,062 firms held a criminal legal aid contract compared to 2,010 in October 2007.

View our duty counsel heatmaps

Watch our video featuring the President of the Law Society and Criminal Defense Practitioners

Contact our press office below if you would like to speak to young criminal defense lawyer, Stephen Davies.

Here are the reasons why criminal law is not an attractive career:

  • “Poor money. Bad working environment. Actively maligned by governments. Limited career opportunities. Debt crush. No trust in the state not to aggravate the above. can to undermine this profession.”
  • “The working conditions, having to work long and unsociable hours and for very low pay and no prospect of a raise. The treatment received by the police and the courts treating you like a burden while you are only trying to enforce the clients’ right to be treated fairly, having to fight tooth and nail for every expense with the Legal Aid Agency and to plead for every penny.
  • “I worked as a lawyer practicing criminal law for six years before moving into commercial law last year. My reason for moving was simply the poor salary with the prospect of a raise. As a single person, the salary was ok but as a parent it’s not tenable Having switched to commercial law in a year, I’ve already doubled the salary I received as a criminal lawyer.
  • “It’s been underfunded, for years. I don’t believe the government would ever fund it adequately to allow a lawyer a good salary and a good quality of life. Why go to college and the huge debts to earn the wages they earn, the hours of work and the antisocial hours on top of that.”
  • “No work-life balance, no family prospects, very little pay, too emotionally draining without enough support, not respected by the public.”
  • “There is instability, a lack of resources, underfunding and with the rising cost of living there is a very real risk of not being able to make ends meet or having some kind of of work-life balance as a criminal lawyer.”
  • “It’s a very stigmatized area of ​​practice where you can often find yourself publicly chastised for doing your job. Likewise, doing that same job, you can end up being paid less than minimum wage.”

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body working globally to support and represent lawyers, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Ruth Murphy | 020 8049 3879 | Nick Mayo | 020 8049 4100