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Crisis of recruitment and retention in firms in North
President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland Brian Archer

21 Mar 2023 / employment Print

Crisis of recruitment and retention in firms in North

The President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland has warned that small legal practices there will have to consider merging to remain economically viable.

President Brian Archer, writing in the in-house publication The Writ, says: “Undoubtedly, we are living in unprecedented times, with significant pressures on the economy, and growing uncertainty about public-spending cuts.”

Echoing a difficult situation in the Republic, Archer points out that legal-aid practices are reliant on state payments that are frequently late, causing “great difficulty in maintaining a cash flow sufficient to keep our offices running”.

Archer stated: “There is no justification why it should take, on average, 12 weeks to pay these fees. In every other sphere of business, the government aims to pay its service providers for completed work within 30 days.

“I recently had a discussion with a Scottish legal-aid solicitor who advised me that, once he submits a report on a case to the Scottish Legal Aid Board, he can expect payment within seven to ten days. Why can our Legal Services Agency not meet similar targets? 

Business norms

"We are simply asking that we are paid in a timely fashion, consistent with business norms.”

The North is now home to more international law firms than anywhere else in Britain.

This had driven the salaries for newly qualified solicitors in these firms to £40,000, Archer pointed out.

“This, in itself, has widened the divide between commercial and legal-aid law firms,” he said.

“General-practice offices are suffering a crisis of recruitment, retention, and succession planning.

“Many young solicitors do not want to work outside Belfast, and are avoiding the traditional high-street practice that deals with domestic conveyancing, criminal legal aid and personal-injury cases.

“Unless this trend is changed in the medium term, we will lose the network of small practices which provide an essential one-stop legal service throughout our jurisdiction,” he said.

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