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Criminal lawyers are feeling the pinch

An oversupply of new counsel combined with falling demand has the making of a cautionary tale for the criminal law bar, Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett writes in Lawyers Weekly.

“There are a number of reasons why criminal counsel are feeling the pinch these days,” explains Harnett, including a low crime rate, whithering legal aid, an increasing number of self-represented accused and the ease of entry into this area of law.

As a result, he writes, lawyers are responding in many ways, including the disturbing reaction of “scooping” another’s client.

“As financial desperation kicks in, ethical constraints come under siege, as seen by the widely reported case of a lawyer writing letters of introduction and touting his services to an accused charged with murder who already had a lawyer. Lawyers privately complain this is happening more frequently,” he says.

Fee-cutting and keeping overheads low are other options criminal lawyers are taking, while others are expanding their practices to other areas of law.

“Small-claims files are an easy way to expand one’s practice. The work often flows out of a criminal practice clientele, and vice versa,” Harnett explains.

The Criminal Lawyers Association is aware of the decline in caseload, he writes, and continues to plead with Legal Aid Ontario to increase the number of certificates and the amount of funds paid per certificate. The Ontario Bar Association is also seeking to improve the public perception of lawyers through a public relations campaign.

“Will it improve the lot of criminal lawyers? Standing alone, it’s  not likely. In co-ordination with other initiatives, though, it may win back some work from paralegals and self-represented accused,” he writes.

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