Crime in motion – Keeping up with an evolving landscape

It’s a wet and windy November day outside. Autumn has arrived in earnest, and with it I begin my third month as a Trainee Solicitor in the Crime and Regulatory department at Milton Keynes.

It’s odd to think that I am already approaching the halfway point in my first seat. Time is flying by, and in no time whatsoever Christmas will be upon us; this just goes to show how quickly the weeks pass when you are working in a seat you enjoy.

Crime is probably one of the most challenging departments as far as keeping a structured diary is concerned. New clients are introduced to the firm on a daily basis and with them come a host of varied and interesting legal problems to help resolve. As a trainee here you are given a lot of responsibility when it comes to meeting these clients and working closely with them throughout their cases. While some clients come to us with straightforward problems - finding that they have fallen foul of the law or acted in contravention of certain regulations – and simply seek the comfort of legal advice or a letter to be written with the clout of a law firm, others are embroiled in complex and protracted issues requiring perhaps a more nuanced approach.

Finding solutions to problems and managing expectations involves an element of juggling as you start each new day with what is almost a battle plan, and more often than not, this changes in the first few hours of the morning! While this sounds daunting on paper, it isn’t at all in reality – in fact it’s exactly this which makes the whole experience such a rewarding challenge and which makes Crime such an exciting area to practise in.

On the Regulatory side of things, matters are fewer but larger by nature, and will often necessitate the development of industry-specific knowledge to understand the arguments on either side. I am currently working on a very large matter hinging on the application of legal arguments to technical information. This has necessitated the creation of mountains of paperwork including witness statements and jury bundles and several dashes to the other side of the country. While this element of our practice is perhaps less chaotic in nature, its complexity and the sheer volume of relevant data to be considered throws up an entirely different set of challenges, providing a good counterpoint to the Crime aspect of this seat.

Transformation is afoot, and it’s a good time for a trainee to be working in Crime. The biggest issue facing criminal practitioners today is the changing business landscape following further reforms to criminal legal aid funding. Firms increasingly have to adapt their business models in order to offer a competitive practice in the light of these changes. Unfortunately, with the provision of legal aid becoming increasingly limited in most circumstances, it is necessary to shift the focus somewhat towards private paying clients. While there are of course principally legal aid-oriented firms which will continue to cater for the majority of publically funded criminal representation services, more diverse practices are becoming restricted in this area and the focus shifts towards more innovative ways of providing the service.

Next time I check in we’ll be well and truly in the festive season, and no doubt it will feel like yesterday that I wrote this post! I’ll be in touch again with more impressions of the changing face of criminal law.