FEARS FOR JOBS HAUNT LAWYERS; Firms Dropping out of Criminal Work

Article excerpt

Byline: Claire Tolley

A CRISIS in the funding of criminal law work could force legal firms on Merseyside to shut down their departments.

One established firm of solicitors in Liverpool has already announced it is to drop unprofitable criminal work and concentrate solely on civil cases.

Paul Rooney, who set up his practice 30 years ago, believes it is no longer viable to continue with criminal practice.

Legal experts say the rates paid by the Government for criminal legal aid work cannot compete with the gains from personal injury claims.

Mr Rooney said: ``We have had a massive expansion in personal injury and employment work and have decided to devote our resources to develop those fields.

``We can no longer justify continuing with criminal work from a financial point of view.

``A decision has yet to be made as to what will happen to the department but in the meantime the interests of our criminal clients will, as always, be properly protected.''

The partner in charge of Paul Rooney's criminal law department is considering whether to branch out on his own.

Liverpool has gained a reputation as the compensation capital of the UK with the highest number of claims per head of population.

A report in the Daily Post revealed how the cost of damages claims against public authorities in Merseyside and Cheshire has risen to more than pounds 24m.

Solicitors must now compete with the burgeoning number of direct claims companies who act as middle men between clients and solicitors under contract to them.

Mr Rooney believes his is not the only firm which will being forced to reconsider its market position.

He said: ``I think a number of firms are concerned about the future for criminal work.''

Mace and Jones in Huyton is also stopping practising criminal law. …