Compulsory Community Service for Lawyers

Yesterday, I posted a hypothetical article exploring what it would be like if the members of a profession other than the legal profession were expected to work for free.

This was prompted by a think tank study suggesting that lawyers should be made to work for free.

Regardless of the reasons given in the report (“reputational repair”…), the clear drive for this is to fill the huge advice desert created by the Government’s legal changes over the past three years, in particular, LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012). Indeed the day after the report was published, Michael Gove announced that the Government will not backtrack on their legal aid changes (and why should they – the “fix” was announced the day before).

The proposal, when you look into it in a bit more depth, however, is truly startling in the liberties it takes with the rights of the British professional.

These plans, if brought to fruition, will result in lawyers working for free for up to 10% of their working year. The proposal is that this will be compulsory.

The only other societal situation in which this occurs, is in “Community Payback” (the current name for what we used to know as Community Service).

Community Payback is a compulsory work order given to convicted criminals as an alternative to custodial sentences.

According to Gov.UK, Community Payback sentences can be given for periods of 40 to 300 hours, depending upon the seriousness of the crime. The average of 40 and 300, is 170 hours.

170 hours is 4.25 working weeks.

10% of a lawyer’s working year, is 4.8 weeks (10% of 48 weeks, having deducted 4 weeks holiday).

So to summarise, the Government’s latest proposal to fill the advice vacuum left by their hugely destructive legal changes, is that lawyers should do more compulsory unpaid work in a year than criminals convicted of offences such as damaging property, benefit fraud and assault.

Only, unlike criminals, lawyers should have to do this every year of their career.

Sentenced, but not tried or convicted.

I can’t wait to see the legal justification for this.

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Accountants to be forced to work for free?

A Westminster-based think tank today released a report stating that accountants should be made to work for free.

The think tank (“Public Thingy”), has released a report, which, amongst other things, argues that the public has lost trust in their professionals, and in particular, accountants. The report states that “A variety of indices suggest declining levels of trust in the UK”….”Collapse of public trust in institutions and professionals should particularly concern us, not least because in many ways we are a service nation”.

It goes on to say that those working in the accounting profession, are far more trusted than bankers, politicians and journalists. However, these levels of trust cannot be taken for granted and neither are they necessarily indicative of clear virtue in practice”.

So, accountants score more highly than politicians, bankers and journalists, but if the stats don’t support your case, rationalisation is your best friend!

The report goes on, “the underlying problem for accounting practice is an increasing loss of purpose for the professions as a whole and a loss of vocation for individual professionals”“The accounting profession has seen an erosion of its sense of wider social purpose and vocation. Accountants are still more trusted that politicians, bankers and journalists” (in case you’d forgotten). 

The report holds the profession responsible for the erosion of access to good accounting practice for all.
The 36 page report however blatantly ignores the fact that the Government has imposed a withering hailstorm of attrition on the accounting sector in the last three years, including but not limited to:
  1. Reduction, verging on partial elimination, of all State sponsored accounting services, meaning that businesses who need State assistance with their accounting, are now faced with the choice of doing it themselves and getting it wrong, or paying money they don’t have for a service that used to be free, or subsidised;
  2. A bewildering assault on private accounting services, aimed at driving down the cost of accounting services to low level fixed fees, the results of which can only be a reduction in service levels and an increased level of professional negligence.
Given that the result of both 1. and 2. are that accountancy practices, particularly smaller ones, are less able to provide quality accounting services for the fees they can now legally charge, it is difficult to understand the conclusion of Public Thingy’s report that, having had their fees summarily suppressed by legislation, accountants are to be expected to carry out 10% of their work for free.
To draw an analogy, according to this report, politicians are still held in lower regard than accountants. As everyone knows, David Cameron stated that he believed the award of a 10% payrise to MP’s was “wrong”, which would seem to fall in line with Public Thingy’s expectations of social conscience in the professions. Of course despite denouncing the award, he didn’t manage to actually reject it, but Mr Cameron did nevertheless stand firm, and through a Downing Street source, said We’re writing a letter to Ipsa to reiterate we stand by the detailed submission we had already made to them last year saying we think this rise is wrong.”
So Mr Cameron “wrote a letter”. That’s that sorted.
All’s well, honour is satisfied, and so is the bank manager.
So, politicians have done the decent thing. What are accountants going to do to restore their tarnished image?
The fact that their image has been irrepairably damaged by Government action which has resulted in the depression of the industry’s service levels from limousine to Lada, is not the Government’s problem.
Public Thingy have the solution: get them to work for free. They should donate 10% of their time free, to fill the gap left by the Government, whose meddling has decimated the industry, and the sterling and ubiquitous service it used to provide. And that’s after having drastically reduced the level of fees they can charge for the work they do.
This all sounds like either a warped nightmare, or a very bad joke. Could the Government really wreak havoc on the accountancy sector, and could they really make accountants work for free?
Of course they couldn’t.
Of course they wouldn’t.
And they wouldn’t make plumbers work for free, or printers, or roofers, or shopkeepers.
And ResPublica (I make no apologies for the truly appalling pun), the Westminster think tank, have provided the weight Gove needs to begin moving such a proposal forward.
Why is it that this Government manifests itself as a self-styled paladin of commercial enterprise, and yet has time after time proven itself committed to throttling the life out of the legal industry, clearly secure in the belief that the law can take everything thrown at it and still continue delivering 110%?
The Law is the foundation of civilized society. As anyone who has played Jenga will know, continuation brings a certainty of collapse.
Still, at least accountants are safe.
For now.
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