We Need a Justice System, Not a Legal System (an Inside Look)

In the United States, above all things, the legal system should be fair, but instead, it is big business.

Additionally, engaging the legal system should not be a major financial decision, but for millions of people in America, it is. Yet, it is also difficult to imagine that this grim reality was one of the original goals defined by those apt gentlemen who created and signed the Declaration of Independence as they chased the dream of a country that could consistently provide the opportunities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in equal doses to all.

Unfortunately, the legal system that has evolved in the United States, does guarantee equal protection, representation or opportunity to each and every citizen. Perhaps, upon being founded, the legal system should have been foregone and instead replaced by the notions of a justice system. In a justice system, the fair assumption would be that justice as determined by reasonable peers, would prevail. In stark contrast to a justice system, the modern legal system permits those individuals with the most money to prevail. And this, quite simply does not often lend itself to any form of justice, regardless of how remote that form may long to be.

If a person Googles, “average cost per hour for an attorney”, that person will learn that an attorney in rural areas may earn between $100 and $200 per hour, while the slicker, big city attorneys are in the average range of $400 to $600 per hour. Extrapolating this information over a 40 hour work week for one year, the lowest paid full-time lawyers on the attorney totem pole are earning over $200,000 a year ($100 per hour x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year = $208,000). When considering this dim reality, it quickly becomes obvious that the average citizen does not possess the means to pay even the cheapest attorney for any significant length of time.

Upon further examination of the facts, we must consider salaries and wages. The minimum wage varies from state to state. As per the 2016 National Conference of State Legislatures, two states have now passed laws to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. California was the first state to pass such laws. This state has now formally required employers to pay $15 per hour by January 1, 2022. New York quickly followed suit, passing legislation requiring employers to pay $15 per hour by July 1, 2020. This means that once the minimum wage is actually increased, earners in each of these states, will be able to afford an inexpensive rural attorney for 39 days by spending an entire year of wages earned ($15 per hour x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year = $31,200 annually / $100 per hour for an attorney = 312 total hours / 8 hours per work day = 39 days). However, if someone in a big city needs to hire an attorney and is making $15 per hour, that person can afford an attorney for less than 10 days by spending an entire year of wages earned ($15 per hour x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year = $31,200 annually / $400 per hour for an attorney = 78 total hours / 8 hours per work day = 9.75 days). Clearly the minimum wage earner will not have fair or adequate representation, for any real length of time in the current legal (not justice) system, against any sizable entity whose coffers may be ever so scantily lined with rotting cash.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the real (inflation adjusted) median household income in the United States was $51,939 (or $24.97 per hour) in 2013. The United States Consumer Law Attorney Fee Survey Report for 2013-2014, published statistics on attorney’s fees by geographical region. It also separated small firms and large firms into different categories. The lowest average hourly rate available from any law firm in the United States, is $253 (available in the Pacific States of AK, HI and WA), which is billed by small firms. Whereas, the biggest average hourly rate required by law firms in the United States is $546, billed by large firms in North East (CT, MA, MD, ME, NH, RI and VT). This means that the average American income, at the cheapest average hourly rate in the United States, would be able to afford legal representation for less than 26 days ($51,939 annually / $253 per hour for an attorney = 205.29 total hours / 8 hours per work day = 25.66 days), while the lowly, average, full time attorney billing $253 per hour earns $526,240 per year ($253 per hour x 40 hours per week x 52 weeks per year).

And, if a person happens to be in need of legal representation or was falsely accused of a crime and is in need of a defense, that person faces a painful reality. But, don’t forget that this pendulum swings both ways, just ask O.J. Simpson, who perhaps bought his way out of a murder conviction by spending an exorbitant amount of money on attorney fees.

Also, please be aware that this disparity does not stop with these details. Moving away from the low and average range for attorney’s fees, forces our attention only in the upward direction. A large group of attorneys easily make over $1,000 per hour and many of those proponents of a fair legal system claim to bill at double that amount. For example, the notorious bankruptcy attorney Theodore Olsen (although I bet all of his friends just call him Teddy the Bankruptcy Bear) is on record for billing $1,800 per hour, according to court filings in the LightSquared Inc., wireless network bankruptcy case filed in 2012. But the thick, brown, gravy train doesn’t stop to even glance at that billable fee as it trucks on down golden plated tracks. Berge Setrakian and Ralph Ferrara were both reported to make approximately $12.5 million in 2011. Again, simple math tells us that a person earning $12.5 million, who works 40 hours a week for 52 weeks per year, is earning $6,009.62 per hour, which makes a teacher’s salary pale in humble comparison.

Additional figures that do not bode well for most Americans in need of legal representation are the following supplementary facts. As per the U.S. Embassy.gov website, the average time for a jury trial is 4 days for civil cases and 5 days for criminal cases (at least, in 2009). However, cases do not start in trial and they often take a substantial amount of time to get there. To help illustrate this point, a person must first be arraigned. After arraignment, the preliminary hearing phase usually takes 5 to 6 days. In the case of misdemeanor charges, the next step in the legal system is the motions and hearing phase. This typically takes 3 months, but may also exceed 2 years, during which time an attorney is billing the client to file court documents and respond to documents filed by the opposition’s legal team. Based on this reality, the average American may run completely out of cash long before the case ever makes it to trial, in which case, justice is not part of the destination and possibly never even made it onto the legal landscape map.

For business, this dynamic is even worse, because numerous states permit an individual to file “pro per” on behalf of a business. This means an individual or owner chooses to represent him/herself, even though state laws might clearly require a business to be represented by an attorney in a court of law. In systems such as these, the individual may file the case on behalf of a company and begin paying court fees only to learn at a later date that an attorney is required to move the case forward. These legal systems actually cause financial harm and damage to the suffering individual in addition to the actual damages that motivated the case to be filed in the first place. With a minimal amount of expectations, one should be able to assume that engaging the legal system, unto itself, should not inflict a greater financial wound on the already injured party, but it does.

That said, it isn’t just the structure of the laws that make a mockery of the legal system, it is also the system itself. Fortunately, in an effort to dive deeper into the vastness of this overwhelming problem, we may also turn to the US Federal Government for more insight. Twice each year, it publishes statistics on the Federal Court System. Please note however, that these statistics do not include any of the non-federal courts, such as the state and municipal courts.

First, understand that there are 9 different Federal Court Systems:
1. U.S. Courts of Appeals
2. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
3. U.S. District Courts – Civil
4. U.S. District Courts – Criminal
5. Federal Probation System Courts
6. U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
7. Federal Pre-Trial Service Courts
8. U.S. District Courts – Grand and Petit Jurors
9. the U.S. Federal Courts.

And, let’s not forget that the first court on that lists, consists of thirteen different courts:
1. U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
2. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
3. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
4. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
5. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
6. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
7. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
8. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
9. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
10. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
11. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
12. U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
13. Supreme Court of the United States (Court of Last Resort)

After a quick glance, it becomes quite apparent that an individual not only needs an attorney to understand the laws and the intention of those laws, a person may also need the assistance of an attorney to grasp the purpose of each of these courts and the appropriate place to begin seeking “justice” by filing a case in the proper court, since there are soooooo many to choose from.

Truly, it is unfortunate that a person literally has no individual rights unless that person knows the law and most Americans can’t afford to pay an attorney to know the law. So then, how free is the land of the free and the home of the brave when freedom and fair legal representation require money to attain?

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get Into the Legal Profession?

“What is the Cheapest way to get into law?”

Entering the legal profession is without doubt one of the most expensive career options apart from becoming an airline pilot. It involves investing thousands of pounds in education that may or may not lead to a position at the end of the road.

Unfortunately there is no simple answer to which is the cheapest way to get in because there are all sorts of implications as to the different paths you choose to go down.

The Legal Executive route is the cheapest option. Quite a few people go down this particular route following on from an undergraduate degree, whether law or otherwise, or straight out of school. The Legal Executive route in terms of monetary cost is considerably cheaper than the Graduate Diploma in Law/LLB degree and the Legal Practice Course (the solicitor route).

We did a bit of research and the current cost in 2013 to complete both parts of the Legal Executive training (Part 3 and Part 6) is about £6,500 (course fees, exam fees etc..) The current cost of the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law is £11,000-£13,000. If you combine the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Court (LPC) the overall cost is about £18,000-£20,000.

If you combine the Legal Practice Course with the cost of completing a law degree then the usual overall price is around £25,000 to £30,000, which is gradually creeping up to around the £40,000 mark as law schools start to capitalise on the willingness and ability of potential lawyers to pay.

In the past people have been down the vocational course route or alternatively the New York Attorney route, but these are options that are now in the past because, as we understand it, the Law Society still require you to complete the LPC and a training contract or training contract equivalent, which makes it senseless to plan to do either of these two in order to become a lawyer.

So if you look at the different options, the cheapest one by far is the route through the Institute of Legal Executives and becoming a chartered legal executive before then either moving on to being a solicitor simply remaining a legal executive.

The various borders between all the different types of lawyer (legal executive, paralegal, solicitor and Barrister) are becoming distinctly blurred. Solicitors can now do work that was exclusively reserved for barristers. Barristers can see clients directly. Legal executives can gain the Rights of Audience that solicitors and barristers previously exclusively enjoyed. Legal Executives can now become partners of law firms and so can barristers. Solicitors can practice as Advocates without ever needing to take instructions from clients themselves.

However one thing remains very clear and that is that in the minds of lawyers themselves there is still a hierarchy in terms of both fee income and status.

At the bottom of the pile is a paralegal and this is very unlikely to change for a good few years yet simply because paralegals have no rights at all in terms of advocacy, and similarly cannot practice on their own without another type of lawyer being with them.

Second in the pile are Legal Executives who are starting to enjoy more status in recent times but similarly hold lesser standing in the legal profession as a whole than solicitors and barristers. It is partly because of the old-fashioned view that most people who have become legal executives are former secretaries trying to work their way up. this is still very much the case for some people and perfectly understandable as a very easy way in.

After all, being a solicitor requires you to do quite a bit of academic study at some point or other whereas becoming a legal executive is mostly something you can do on the job with a few evenings a week at night school or weekends at doing distance learning spread over a considerable length of time.

Second from the top are solicitors. Make no mistake, in the legal professional solicitors are definitely considered second rate by just about everyone including themselves, even when they are commercial lawyers earning considerable sums of money and more than the Barristers they instruct. Solicitors are seen more as wheeler-dealers and go-getters than actual lawyers, and the profession itself over time has determined effectively that solicitors are the monkeys to barristers’ organ grinders.

At the top of the pile are the barristers. The vast majority of barristers I suspect would class themselves as upper class. They are often very sharp, extremely intelligent, usually residing in exclusive villages or streets reserved for premier league footballers, doctors and senior businessmen and with cars to match.

Barristers see solicitors as a necessary evil as traditionally the solicitors obtain clients for the barristers and the barristers did their best for them even though they usually have not met the client before the date of their first hearing and have absolutely no interest at all in their welfare or personal situation.

Barristers are pure law at the end of the day and are not interested (quite understandably) in their clients’ welfare or wellbeing.

These are traditional views on the legal profession and the way it is structured. How you choose to interpret the above article is a matter for yourself, but it is based on my own experiences in law, whether as a lay person undertaking cases myself or as a qualified solicitor working with barristers and other solicitors.

The reason I put this level of detail into this article is to show you that if you decide to go in the cheapest way into the legal profession there is always a catch, and at the moment the catch is that your status for the remainder of your time in the profession will be diminished by the decision you have made now.

Once a legal executive always a legal executive. The lawyers recruiting you at the moment are usually “pure” solicitors. They will hold your status as a legal executive against you and probably for the remainder of your career. Your salary will often be affected as solicitors traditionally believe that legal executives are worth less money than qualified solicitors. I would estimate that over the time of your career remaining you will lose around £5,000 to £10,000 per year at the very least through your decision to go down the Legal Executives route, at least up until you have been in a solicitors job for 5 years min.

Furthermore, certain doors will be shut to you from then start. If you qualify as a legal executive you very often have to qualify into an area where legal executives are used and practice. This invariably means debt recovery, some types of employment – usually contentious, crime, family, conveyancing, wills and probate and sometimes commercial property. Whilst some of these are not known to be too bad in the long term – commercial property and wills and probate are not too badly paid at the moment – it does mean that the majority of commercial law for example is going to be outside your remit.

It is very difficult to move from one field to another once you have specialised in one particular area of law. So for example if you qualify as a legal executive undertaking crime work and have 5 years’ experience you cannot then use your legal executive status (or indeed your solicitor status) to move across and practice in corporate finance.

If you are an able student or graduate with excellent grades then you should almost always make an effort to go down the solicitor or barrister route. Going down the solicitor route is not as expensive as people think it is.

For example you do not need to pay the College of Law or BPP to do the Legal Practice Course or the Graduate Diploma in Law. There are far cheaper alternatives and regardless of what the more elite institutions tell you, the vast majority of law firms don’t care two hoots where you do your LPC because most qualified lawyers view these courses as burning hoops to jump through in order to qualify than any sign of your ability.

Employers are always interested in your undergraduate degree. For the rest of your career. Forever!

They are also interested in your A level grades. Forever!

This plus your A- Level grades will determine whether you are a student or graduate with excellent academics. If you have straight A’s at A Level or AAB or possibly ABB then you will be an excellent student to come into law.

If you have a 2:1 Degree in anything other than pop music or country dancing (my first degree was pop music), then you stand a very good chance of training and becoming a qualified solicitor.

If you have less than this then your life as a lawyer will be considerably harder to start out with. The Legal profession do not view 2:2 degrees as being something that entitles you to practice as a lawyer. It will go against you for the remainder of your career and there is no way round it. I suspect that if you are sat there reading this with a 2:2 degree you have been badly misinformed by anyone who has told you to go into the legal profession. It is not impossible – I have trained and coached many students and graduates who have 2:2 degrees (sometimes even a 3rd) and they have gone onto enjoy rewarding careers as lawyers in some capacity. However, their road into law has been considerably harder as a result of their inability to obtain a 2:1 degree.

So getting back to my statement that if you have excellent academics you should always consider becoming a solicitor so as not to damage your career in the long term by going down the Legal Executive route.

If you do not have excellent academics then you should always consider alternative options and one of these will be to go down the legal executive route.

However I would not recommend paying to undertake a legal executive course until you have legal work experience, you are able to use in the longer term to secure yourself a good legal career.

By this I mean that if you are a student or graduate you should definitely not go straight along to the Institute of Legal Executives and sign up for any legal executive course. If you are going down a non-conventional route into law then academic study once you have completed an undergraduate degree or your A-Levels is completely immaterial. Experience is what matters and nothing else will do. Legal work experience is the key to gaining a successful start into law.

You cannot skip this, circumvent or navigate round it as so many people try every year.

This is why academic institutions have been bought out by overseas companies looking to make a quick buck.

There are a lot of people out there undertaking postgraduate and undergraduate courses with no hope at all of ever finding a job in the profession they are going into.

Furthermore, there are lots of people out there who have the academic qualifications but lack any work experience or activities or interests who similarly are very unlikely to ever get ahead in law or get through the easy way.

No careers adviser will give you this advice, but the main thing to do to get into law is to get experience, more experience and even more experience. This may cost money in itself, and you may say that I have my fees to pay and I have to live. This gets me to my point that if you want to invest in your career then spending money on academic qualifications is not the way to go. Getting experience is and this in itself will cost you money.

To give you a quick example, as I write this a vacancy has come in from one of our central London law firms. They are looking for a fee earner to go and assist for a month or two with a load of admin work. They will pay well for this, and it is a job probably most suited for an LPC graduate.

I have one in mind.

It is not an LPC graduate with a 2:1 law degree or good A levels. It is not an LPC graduate with an LLM from a good university or some sort of summer school academic qualification. It is an LPC graduate with similar experience to that the firm are seeking.

The firm will not give two hoots what the LPC graduate has in terms of additional qualifications but they will study the LPC graduate’s work experience to date to decide whether or not to take them on for this particular role.

It is so important to understand this that when somebody says what is the cheapest way into law that there is no easy answer. You cannot just take a decision now that will affect the rest of your career simply on the basis that it may cost one or two thousand pounds more to go one way into the legal profession rather than another.

You will notice that so far I have not mentioned anything about barristers. This is because in my experience training to be a barrister is almost always a complete waste of your money and time. You would probably be shocked to hear this and perhaps put it down to my natural bias against barristers having been a solicitor myself. I would grudgingly accept that probably I am a little biased against barristers having run around courts for them, I’ve dealt with some pretty awful ones over the years (as well as some absolutely fantastic ones) but the barristers’ strand of the profession is pretty much tied up and it is very important to understand this.

The word nepotism could almost have been invented for this part of the profession. Let me give you an example.

Back many years ago when I had just qualified as a solicitor our practice used a local chambers which had a very good reputation in the area and was probably the top set of barristers by a considerable distance. I cannot remember any of their barristers being unsuited or incompetent and most being incredibly talented advocates.

At some stage in my first year after training I remember that they advertised for two pupil barristers to join them. There were a considerable number of applications, as you would expect because this was a top quality set of chambers, outstanding reputation with quality work coming in, in an area where there are not many barristers’ chambers.

I do not know how the recruitment process occurred but I do know that the two pupils selected were children of one of the senior barristers in chambers and one of the more junior barristers. I am afraid that the barristers’ profession can talk about diversity and equal opportunity to their hearts content but when recruitment like this occurs in a chambers of that size it is completely irrelevant.

It is always going to be the case that if chambers at that level recruit their own then anyone else will either have to set up rival chambers or alternatively work for a lesser standard of chambers.

It may be that the two children of the barristers already in practice were the best suited for the role, and I am sure they went on to be absolutely outstanding barristers but the point is these two people gained their pupillages with chambers to which they were already affiliated through their parents.

Without any sort or recruitment process that eliminates this (and after all why should it – I would have done exactly the same myself as a barrister if my children wanted to practice as barristers!) then this is not a strand of the profession to go into unless you have family or extremely good friends who are able to assist you in your search or pupillage.

The vast majority of people who complete the Bar Professional Training Course do not end up as barristers. They end up working as paralegals or non-qualified lawyers with a views to taking the Legal Practice Course at a future point in their career, costing even more money.

This is a false economy because the cost of completing the Bar Professional Training Course and the Legal Practice Course is verging on the ridiculous for the returns that you will get at a later stage in your career.

So in summary I recommend anyone coming into the profession to do one of two things.

1. If you have excellent academics and the ability to add legal work experience to your CV to bolster this then go and try and qualify as a solicitor. Do not go down any other route.

2. If you do not have excellent academics do not go down the route of qualifying to be a solicitor. You can go and get work experience and prove me wrong (and I hope you do) but you would be better suited to a life as a legal executive with a view to cross-qualifying at a later stage by competing the Legal Practice Course or simply being happy doing what you are doing as a legal executive.

Always think – why are you going into law? What do you want to get out of it? How much will you need to earn in order to get what you want out of life?

Cheapest Household Insurance – How to Make Sure You Find It

It is always better to be safe than to find yourself suddenly in an unforeseen situation – missing your valuables – or even your home. Burglaries are not uncommon – and there is only so much one can do to secure one’s house and one’s belongings from theft. One can protect one’s belongings with products like home alarm systems or digital locks – but all this will only serve their purpose up to a point – especially with today’s burglars who come prepared for the usual security systems. Natural disasters, moreover, are every bit as unpredictable and a hundred times more disastrous than man-made ones.

Insuring your household is not legally necessary – but it is always safest to find the cheapest household insurance one can. Finding the cheapest household insurance is not difficult – it only takes some time, research and effort to get the right coverage and the right plan to suit one’s individual and family needs.

The cheapest household insurance one manages to find should also cover both the house and its contents at a good policy price and be sufficiently cost effective.

One should be very careful and clever at deciding what contents of the house should be covered in the policy plan. One should make a list of all of one’s possessions that one wishes to insure along with the house keeping in mind that every item added to the list will increase the policy premium.

One should then perform an extensive search on all the insurance quotes that are available to him or her – either online, or through friends and neighbors, or, better still, both. The Internet alone will have millions of options to choose from – it is important that one does one’s research extensively so as not to miss a very good offer.

One should compare the insurance quotes to the coverage’s they give – and make sure that one reads through all the information each company provides in each disclosure document for the preferred insurance plan.

After you find your preferred insurance agency, the agents will estimate the costs that they might have to bear. The cheapest household insurance might not give you good coverage – so one must be careful that one has exactly the plan that one would need.

There is one very good way to make sure that you get the cheapest household insurance available – this is to make sure that your house is extremely secure otherwise.

One should buy new locks from reputable companies. Buying good locks not only helps you find the cheapest household insurance available – but also secures your house against burglaries – in the event of which your insurance will protect you from your losses. This might sound like a convoluted idea – buying locks to bring down the price of the insurance down and making your house more secure while you get insured against burglaries – but one shouldn’t lose sight of why one doing all these things in the first place – for financially security against any misfortune, the actual burglary – or the loss of one’s valuables during the burglary.