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Thrive92

Criminal defense lawyers: how many contracts do you receive from legal aid on average per year?

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Hello everyone. I'm currently a 0L finishing up my undergraduate and about to apply in a year or two for law school.

I am really focused on becoming a criminal defense lawyer, or maybe immigration. Having said that, keep in mind this is coming from someone who have zero knowledge of the legal field.

I was wondering if it is possible for a criminal defense lawyer to make up the bulk of his/her income through legal aid? Maybe this is laughable, but I don't really see myself asking for five - figure payments from my clients. I would like to apply to legal aid bc for a vendor number as soon as i get called to the bar and start working.

Although earning alot of money would be nice, I would be satisfied with the average Canadian yearly income ($50k or so). However, I am wondering if that number is possible just by taking legal aid cases?

How many cases from legal aid would a criminal defense lawyer receive on average per year? I'm sure for a newbie lawyer fresh out of articling who hasn't made a name for him/herself, the number would be significantly lower than a veteran criminal lawyer. Then later on as you make a name for yourself, perhaps the clients who are eligible for legal aid would be asking for you?

Thank you for reading.

Edited by Thrive92
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nobody? Is this too much of a foolish question?

I really don't mind if criminal defense lawyers give me a reality check about this. Please let me know

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In BC, very very few. You need clients to request you. Getting on the LAid roster alone does almost nothing.

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56 minutes ago, Hegdis said:

In BC, very very few. You need clients to request you. Getting on the LAid roster alone does almost nothing.

I see... thank you for your input.

As a sole practitioner, would there be any trouble if I would charge my fees far below the market price in an attempt to attract more clients/build my reputation, even after I gain enough experience in the field to charge more?

For example, if a criminal lawyer a few blocks away charges 2k for a DUI, and if I charge 500, would lawyers in the region i practice not appreciate it? In other words, would there be any repercussions in any way if the above scenario happened?

As stated above, I really don't care much about money as long as I earn enough to live without much trouble (50kish). I have some personal convictions for entering into the field of criminal defense, and the fact that many who come in contact with the criminal justice system are financially unable to afford counsel is one of them. I know it sounds cheesy and cringey, but that is why I am asking these questions.

Again, I'm sorry if my questions seem downright ridiculous or makes no sense; i haven't even gotten into law school yet.

Edited by Thrive92

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They are good questions to be thinking about. They should not drive your decision making about law school. Legal Aid programs in Canada are cash strapped and operating at the brink. There could be wholesale changes to how all of it works by the time you are a lawyer. Focus on getting in, taking courses in areas of interest, and then figure out at the time you are ready what the best approach is to learn the skills you need to know to practice the way you would like to. Senior counsel and mentorship really helps with this, and trying to compete as a junior lawyer on price without having anyone in your network teaching you the practical side of what you need to know is not likely going to be your best move.

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Yeah you are a hundred steps ahead of yourself. It isn’t possible to have a meaningful discussion on this with you because you lack even the most basic framework right now to go over the nuances and geographical realities you may one day face. 
 

Ask again in five years :)

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23 minutes ago, Morgan said:

Legal Aid programs in Canada are cash strapped and operating at the brink

That is disappointing. I thought that the BC provincial government just gave its legal aid some extra funding recently, but I guess that is just a drop in the bucket.

23 minutes ago, Morgan said:

trying to compete as a junior lawyer on price without having anyone in your network teaching you the practical side of what you need to know is not likely going to be your best move.

True. But me lowering my fees is not necessarily to compete with other lawyers, but mostly to bring in more clients. Not so that other lawyers will be left to dry, but more so to provide my legal services to a wider range of clients.

Just now, Hegdis said:

Yeah you are a hundred steps ahead of yourself. It isn’t possible to have a meaningful discussion on this with you because you lack even the most basic framework right now to go over the nuances and geographical realities you may one day face. 
 

Ask again in five years :)

Yeah you are probably right. Very well, I'll sit tight for a few years with my crazy thoughts xD

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5 minutes ago, Thrive92 said:

True. But me lowering my fees is not necessarily to compete with other lawyers, but mostly to bring in more clients. Not so that other lawyers will be left to dry, but more so to provide my legal services to a wider range of clients.

Not to nitpick because it isn’t a live issue for you right now - but this is literally what competition is.
 

The what matters, not the why. 

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I'm in Ontario and not BC, but given how generally this subject is being discussed, I can't imagine it matters.

The good news is that if you want to practice criminal defence, and if you are content to work for relatively low amounts on behalf of clients who would otherwise have trouble finding counsel, there will always be a huge need for that. The details could change (to agree with Morgan) and if you ask detailed questions about how that works your questions won't even make sense right now and will be based on very odd ideas (to agree with Hegdis) but generally that option will always exist in some form. There are still lawyers competing for even clients who can't pay well. But quite simply, if you are both good at your job (remains to be seen, but let's hope) and willing to do it at competitive rates - yeah, you'll be busy. Assuming some degree of business skills.

For the rest, put aside any ridiculous notion that you're going to break the code of the marketplace without even knowing what the marketplace looks like in real terms. Learn the job first. Then when you actually have a product to sell that you understand (i.e. your skills as a lawyer - which is a product that doesn't currently exist at all) you can worry about how to best sell it.

Good luck.

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I have nothing substantive to offer but I will say this:

Notwithstanding criticism from others, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and initiative in asking these questions. When I look back at my law school career, I can tell you that those who had questions like these buzzing in their heads on day one were more motivated and successful in school. You are 0L...if you aren't the one asking stupid and ill-informed questions, who will? Thank you for considering a career in criminal defense and for being bold enough to ask your questions.

Edited by BeetleGirl
I suck at typing
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I think this really depends on jurisdiction. Apparently in many provinces people set up shop as solo criminal lawyers and take on legal aid certificates? This is bizarre to me. 

I work with legal aid in Newfoundland as a criminal defence lawyer, primarily, and we do not outsource to the private bar at all. We do everything in house. 

If you're able to get into the practice, It's very rewarding if you're the right type of person. Good luck to you, if you have anything to ask feel free to shoot me a message with any questions.

E

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3 hours ago, East said:

I work with legal aid in Newfoundland as a criminal defence lawyer, primarily, and we do not outsource to the private bar at all. We do everything in house. 

This is very interesting. So like the crown prosecutors, you are paid by the government to only take on legal aid cases? Are you able to work on cases that are not legal aid?

I was considering the Maritimes in my law school admissions, but I was told that the legal profession is so saturated there that many work in other provinces shortly after graduation.

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@Thrive92, I'm kind of in the same situation as you. I'm an L0 who is considering this as an option.

I am also subject to the same cautions and criticisms from actual lawyers as you. We are only speculating about a future that we are not yet very familiar with. When we have the skills to be a lawyer, and especially once we have represented a few clients, we will know 100 times more than we do know.

Furthermore, a lot can change between now and when we are theorizing that we will be called to the bar. (We are assuming acceptance, graduation, passing the bar exam, and not changing our minds about wanting to work in a different field, etc).

That being said, I a have several friends and acquaintances  who are police officers, and I have worked with them as a volunteer officer.  In my local area, they assure me that I would have no shortage of work if I am representing criminal clients on  legal aid. They could be wrong, they could be exaggerating or misleading me, or this might change by the time I am actually a lawyer. Also for you, your prospects might be different in your geographic area. 

On 12/7/2020 at 4:08 AM, Diplock said:

The good news is that if you want to practice criminal defence, and if you are content to work for relatively low amounts on behalf of clients who would otherwise have trouble finding counsel, there will always be a huge need for that.

He's in Toronto. I'm 3 hours north of TO, in an area that appears to me to be even more underserved in this regard.

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10 minutes ago, SNAILS said:

That being said, I a have several friends and acquaintances  who are police officers, and I have worked with them as a volunteer officer.  In my local area, they assure me that I would have no shortage of work if I am representing criminal clients on  legal aid. They could be wrong, they could be exaggerating or misleading me, or this might change by the time I am actually a lawyer.

Cops tend to not know nearly as much as they think they know about law.

10 minutes ago, SNAILS said:

Also for you, your prospects might be different in your geographic area. 

It should go without saying that some areas are starved for lawyers and overloaded with files ready to be picked up, and others are so oversaturated that getting on the legal aid list will not in itself do anything for a new call. Any attempt to generalize this across the country is useless.

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3 hours ago, CleanHands said:

It should go without saying that some areas are starved for lawyers and overloaded with files ready to be picked up, and others are so oversaturated that getting on the legal aid list will not in itself do anything for a new call. Any attempt to generalize this across the country is useless.

Strongly agree. I work primarily out of an area in my province where certificates are abundant and legal aid actively searches out defence lawyers to take certificates. 

At the same time, I would partly out of a another area in my provinces where, without referrals, I’d have no files. Getting on the certificate list essentially did nothing because some of the defence lawyers accepting work are so established that they effectively get it all.

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I have had very limited dealings with legal aid but my sense is given the fee caps and restrictions even with a high volume there’s an overabundance of free work involved.

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3 hours ago, Harkareferral said:

I have had very limited dealings with legal aid but my sense is given the fee caps and restrictions even with a high volume there’s an overabundance of free work involved.

Yes I had looked over the bc legal aid tariffs for criminal defense lawyers, and although much of it didn't make sense to me, I figured it wasn't a boatload of cash.

I am contemplating the moment I get called to the bar and get my vendor number, I will walk around Hastings street for an hour or two with a hundred business cards and meet some of the residents there personally. If there is nothing that would prevent me from doing that (no infraction from the law society, etc), that is what I will do even if it is unorthodox or unconventional practice.

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29 minutes ago, Thrive92 said:

I am contemplating the moment I get called to the bar and get my vendor number, I will walk around Hastings street for an hour or two with a hundred business cards and meet some of the residents there personally. If there is nothing that would prevent me from doing that (no infraction from the law society, etc), that is what I will do even if it is unorthodox or unconventional practice.

You wouldn't be the first lawyer to do that. It's not a bad idea though.

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31 minutes ago, Thrive92 said:

Yes I had looked over the bc legal aid tariffs for criminal defense lawyers, and although much of it didn't make sense to me, I figured it wasn't a boatload of cash.

I am contemplating the moment I get called to the bar and get my vendor number, I will walk around Hastings street for an hour or two with a hundred business cards and meet some of the residents there personally. If there is nothing that would prevent me from doing that (no infraction from the law society, etc), that is what I will do even if it is unorthodox or unconventional practice.

If you want to build a criminal legal aid practice as a new call, you're probably not going to do it primarily at 222 Main St. 

Have you been there? The average age of defence counsel taking these sorts of matters has to be about 60 (not including articling students). 

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23 minutes ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

Have you been there? The average age of defence counsel taking these sorts of matters has to be about 60

i can only assume that they are veteran lawyers who have established themselves there long before i was even born. mad respect to them. 

i don’t mind being the newbie lawyer who picks up the crumbs should they want to retire/reduce their workload. i am not intending to step on anyone’s toes.

29 minutes ago, CleanHands said:

You wouldn't be the first lawyer to do that. It's not a bad idea though.

that’s good to hear; i thought i was being kind of crazy for even thinking about this approach.

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