Lawyers shun legal aid cases
Marlborough's legal aid bill dropped this year as lawyers stopped taking legal aid cases because of new rules for the service. Justice Ministry figures showed a group of 10 Marlborough lawyers and law firms were paid $1,079,238.82 for legal aid work for the financial year ended June 30.
The figure was down on last year's $1.23 million.
Watson Legal was the highest earner with $244,686.68, followed by barrister Rob Harrison on $216,125.81 and Gascoigne Wicks on $177,596.86.
Gascoigne Wicks lawyer Kent Arnott said the firm had two lawyers working legal aid cases during the past financial year, but it had stopped taking such cases.
The only legal aid work it was doing now was Mr Arnott's work as a duty solicitor covering first appearances for criminal cases in Blenheim District Court and a few files it was still finishing.
He expected a larger drop in the figure next year, reflecting firms that had stopped taking legal aid work because of the changes to the system introduced this year. These included flat fees setting a maximum that lawyers could be paid at each stage of a case, and did not reflect the amount of time spent on a case, he said.
"It's simply unrealistic, the time frames for both family and criminal cases. It doesn't take into account, especially in family court, how much behind-the-scenes work goes on. They allocate a set number of hours and say that's it, where with a private client you can invoice them for the hours you spend on the case."
Lawyer Bryony Millar said she was also planning to stop taking legal aid cases. She expected others to stop as well because of the changes and the cut in money paid for legal aid cases.
"In some cases the money you're earning is about one-third what you would earn privately and who else gets asked to do exactly the same job but for one-third the price . . . At some point you have to say, ‘Sorry, I can't take a phone call from you, I have already written off 10 hours of time on this file'."
It was likely there would be only one Family Court lawyer left offering legal aid in Blenheim next year, she said, which could be a major issue for people who could not afford a lawyer.
The money paid to a lawyer for legal aid was used to pay staff and costs for a case such as outside experts, travel expenses and business expenses and did not represent a lawyer's take-home pay, she said.
Marlborough law firms' legal aid bills:
Watson Legal $244,686.68
Rob A Harrison, barrister $216,125.81
Gascoigne Wicks & Co $177,596.86
Crichton Loach $172,830.61
McCarthy Law $83,092.57
Wain & Naysmith $60,305.32
Bryony Millar, barrister $52,512.68
John Holdaway, barrister $50,456.70
Hardy Jones Clark $14,574.68
MBT Turner, barrister $7,056.91
The Marlborough Express