I am aware that the rates that I charge are usually pretty competitive, especially for publicly funded work such as expert accountancy carried out in criminal defence matters. It was with some shock that I was approached for a tender and warned that the new rates would limit my hourly rates to £144!
I quickly searched the Legal Service Commission’s web site and found their paper “Legal Aid Reform – Expert Rates” – to be implemented by 3 October 2011. Sure enough, the rates did include the hourly rate of £144 for a “Partner” expert accountant working out of London. Of course this was the top rate, and as most expert witnesses will use other resources in their firm, the resulting “composite” or average hourly rate can be somewhat lower.
In order to be competitive I charge my highest rate for input into any assignment that I consider to require my full skills as an expert, or “Partner” input. I also charge a lower rate for work that involves routine accountancy work – I call it my forensic investigation rate. At the end of the day, it is the composite rate that interests me as I am sure it does the LSC. However, there is no guidance on the LSC site for this sort of rate which will depend on the nature and complexity of the work – and I imagine that a sole practitioner will need to temper his or her urge to simply quote at the highest partner rate if they wish to remain competitive.
The rates in the framework fall well below big high street accountancy firm rates and even (boutique) niche firms such as my own may sometimes struggle with them. My worry is that the rates will be more attractive to the “have a go” accountant found in the smaller or more regional firms and that in some cases quality will suffer in the competitive market.
I note that the LSC caveat their new framework with the possibility of increasing the hourly rates:
- where the complexity of the material is such that an expert with a high level of seniority is required; or
- the material is of such a specialised and unusual nature that only very few experts are available to provide necessary evidence.
Unfortunately this may have the effect of allowing the largest firms to consume the available resources for a few high value and high profile cases leaving little in the pot for the mainstream work – which actually in each case is just as important and very likely as relatively complex to the respective parties as the big cases – watch out for another London Underground maybe?
One thing I know is that although the paper indicates prior authority is not mandatory – I will always insist on funding being in place before I start work, unless I am prepared to accept that the work is being done for nothing and payment will be a bonus!