RSS Feed

Crunchy numbers

Bob Cratchit qualifies as a solicitor, and goes to work for Tim Tiny and Co. He specialises in care proceedings. He does nothing other than representing parents in care proceedings, that’s his speciality. He doesn’t do any advocacy, he just sees parents, goes through the papers with them, listens to their problems, gives them advice, and prepares any statements for them.

One idle day, Bob wonders about his long-term future in care proceedings. He didn’t come into care law to make lots of money, but he, like most people has bills to pay and wants to be able to have some fun after the bills are paid. He is also aware that his firm is a business and that at some level, the business will be interested in whether it is making money by employing him, or losing money. If what he brings in by way of income doesn’t pay his wages, they will let him go.

So, what Bob wants to know is – to cover his wages, how many care cases does he need to have going at any one time? He realises that off the top of his head, he has no idea. Is it four? Fourteen? Forty?  

Given that the case is a fixed fee, there must be a point at which for each case, he begins losing money for each additional hour he works on it. But where is that? After twenty hours? Sixty? A hundred?

[It may sound nasty and vulgar and ugly to look at things in this way, but given that Tim Tiny and Co is ultimately a business and not a charity, they would want to have some idea of whether the work Bob is doing ultimately covers his wages. If Tim Tiny and Co were in the business of selling doughnuts, they wouldn’t do very well unless they had an idea how many doughnuts they had to sell to break even, and how much they made per doughnut after covering their costs. And if firm after firm of Tim Tiny and Co’s end up having to let their Bobs go, who will be representing parents?

 

I’m not sure that any care lawyer has ever sat down to do these sums. You will see when you read this whole thing, that care lawyers aren’t sitting around on thrones made of gold, lighting Romeo y Julietta cigars with fifty pound notes. If they were any good with numbers, they’d be doing ancillary relief with Fiona Shackleton, charging £500 per hour – allegedly]

Five key numbers or assumptions, from which the rest of this is derived.

(1)   The fixed fee cost for representing a parent in care proceedings is £2907 (it is actually less than that in the Midlands and the North – £2256 and £2193 respectively) 

 

(2)   The duration of cases post the new PLO going live will be 26 weeks

 

(3)   In order for a solicitor as an individual real person to earn £100, they need to bill at least £300   (the rule of thumb being that of every pound billed, 33p is for the wages of the solicitor, 33p for the overheads and 34 p for the partners of the firm)

 

(4)   The minimum hourly wage in the UK is £6.19  

 

(5)   The notional hours per week worked by a person in England is 37, though a lot of people work more.   [For the odd situation of a fixed fee, working more hours is actually a BAD thing, since it makes the effective hourly rate go DOWN]

If you didn’t know, we moved a few years back from a system where a solicitor representing parents billed for their work for each hour they spent at about £65 per hour (up to a certain limit) and instead to a fixed fee system, where every case, regardless of how much time is spent on it, gets billed at the same amount.    [There’s a  complication to that where if you are able to show that you spent TWICE the number of hours on a particular case than the Government predicted the average case would take, you can try to claim an additional fee, but that is high risk and beyond the scope of this article]

Deep breath, maths time. Let’s start by chopping out the bit of the fixed fee which goes to overheads and partners. The bit that is in effect left for Bob is 1/3rd.  

That makes the bit of the fixed fee that covers Bob’s wages £969 per case.   [£2907 divided by 3. He won’t necessarily get all of this, what we are doing is working out whether the firm can afford to pay him £x, given that they use at most one third of his generated income to pay his wages]

[We can do this next bit really quite simply as a rough estimate – if Bob earns just under £1000 in wages per care case, he’s going to roughly need 10 care cases a year to earn £10,000, 25 to earn £25,000 and so on. ]

 

The minimum wage of £6.19 an hour, multiplied by 37 hours, multiplied for 52 weeks, works out at £11,910 per year. That’s 12 and a bit per year, if Bob works in London or the South of England, so it needs to be 13 cases [since you can’t take on ‘a bit’ of a case].

National average salary is £26,500, so Bob needs to run 28 care cases per year  – this goes up a LOT if he doesn’t work in London.

Where is Bob and what does Bob himself get per care case

Number of care cases to earn minimum wage

Number of care cases to earn national average salary

Weekly income for Bob per care case and

Notional hourly rate per care case (on 26 week cases)

Weekly income for Bob per care case and Notional hourly rate per case case (on 40 week cases)

“Break-even point?”

London/South (£969 per case)

13

28

£37.00

£1.00

£24.05

65p

70 or less

Midlands (£752 per case)

16

36

 

£28.86

78p

£18.87

51p

55 or less

North of England (£731 per case)

17

37

£28.12

76p

£18.28

49p

53 or less

           

Break-even point is based on Bob needing to generate income out of that fixed fee to cover his hourly pay (which on national average is £13.77 per hour). The more hours he spends on the case, the less profitable he will be, but if he goes OVER those hours in the column, the work he is doing will not actually be covering his wages.  [So, in the North of England, on a 26 week case, if a lawyer spends an average of more than 2 hours per week on each care case, they aren’t covering their wages]

The notional hourly rate, if you want to check it is   (amount for Bob per case / number of weeks the case will be running (26 or 40) / 37 hours per week).  Given that you don’t get paid per hour that you work on the case, the notional hourly rate is a way of looking at what, per hour, you effectively earn from HOLDING the case, given that the fixed fee can be averaged out over the hours the case is active in Bob’s caseload).

 

Bear in mind that the notional £1 per hour per case isn’t just earned  WHILST you are working on the case, but just whilst the case is going on, it is a way of smoothing out those days when you do 4 hours on the case and other days where you don’t need to touch it at all. 

 

 [Of course, the 10% cut proposed by the Ministry of Justice in their consultation means that Bob will be only be  earning 90p per hour for each care case he holds, AND the minimum wage is going up to £6.31, so from that point he will need to hold more care cases per year to get paid minimum wage. ]

So, to pay a specialist care lawyer (who doesn’t do advocacy)  the national average salary, they need to be opening 28 care cases per year. If they can’t open 28 care cases each and every year, then either they need to change their working model to start doing advocacy (which is billed separately to the fixed fee) or Bob will be ending up out of a job. That means, given how long proceedings last, in the new regime, you’d be wanting to have 14 or more in your cabinet at any one time.

(If you are in private practice, and you have not just rolled your swivel chair back to your filing cabinet to count whether you currently have more than fourteen care proceeding files, you have nerves of steel…)

 

That’s all a bit depressing. So here’s a positive way of looking at it, says Suesspiciousminds weakly, the 26 week PLO timetable will be making you nearly 50% more profitable per case per hour, and will be making the partners 50% more profitable per case per hour too.  You can say to your partner, “look, once the PLO comes in, every care case I have will be earning me 50% more per hour”      [£1.00 v 65 p in the South, 78p v 51p in the Midlands, 76p v 49p in the North].  How often do you get the chance to improve your hourly earning figures by 50%?

“Hey boss, I’m going to be 50% more profitable per hour on care cases after August, how about a raise?”

 (If you ARE planning to use that as an argument for a 50% pay-rise, I suggest that you don’t use the earlier part of this article or let the managing partner see it. Also, if you ARE working for the MOJ, don’t use this as a basis for cutting the fixed fees down by 35% of their current level)

If you are a specialist care lawyer, either start grabbing some private family work, or start doing advocacy, as otherwise you’ll be struggling to stay afloat, is my advice.

Quick ballpark figure, if Bob did all the advocacy as well, on a new PLO case being dealt with in the Magistrates Court, say 3 ½ day hearings, 2 advocates meetings  and a 3 day final hearing, that would mean  £2425 for the firm of which one third, or  £808.50  goes into the potential pot for Bob’s wages. Which is quite a chunk compared to what Bob would get for running the case or what the firm itself would get, and one can see why family solicitors are doing more and more of their own advocacy, since it nearly doubles the income per case for the firm.

 

Working all of this out for barristers is harder, since there isn’t the 1/3 Bob, 1/3rd overheads, 1/3rd Tim Tiny and Co rule of thumb, but the figures are all there to be calculated. It would be ludicrous to imagine that a barrister could run five day hearings in the County Court every working week of the year, so that’s the ludicrous notional highest GROSS earnings per year for solely publicly funded work £557 per day x 5 days=  £2800 in a week x 48 working weeks of the year.

 

 

If Bob specialises in representing children, the table is a bit different, since the figures depend on whether it is one child or more than one – don’t represent a baby in the North of England, unless you are doing quite a bit of the advocacy yourself…

Bob works in which area, representing how many children?

How much for Bob per care case?

Number of cases to earn minimum wage

Number of cases to earn national average

On 26 weeks, the weekly income per case, and the notional hourly rate

On 40 weeks, the weekly income per case and the notional hourly rate

Break even point

South (1 child) £745.67

16

36

£28.68

78p

£18.64

50p

54 hours or less

South (more than 1 child)

£1118.33

11

 

24

£43.01

£1.16

£27.96

76p

81 hours or less

Midlands (1 child)

£649.67

19

 

41

£24.99

67p

£16.24

44p

47 hours or less

Midlands (more than one child)

£974

13

28

£37.46

£1.01

£24.35

66p

71 hours or less

North (1 child)

£532.67

23

50

£20.49

55p

£13.32

36p

39 hours or less

North (more than one child)

£798.67

15

34

£30.72

83p

£19.97

54p

58 hours or less

           

And one final bit of cheery news. If you are representing a parent, you can console yourself when in the first two weeks of care proceedings you have to:-

See the client

Read the papers

Decide what, if any additional disclosure you need

Brief counsel for the contested ICO hearing

Decide whether you want an expert

Identify expert, ask them to complete the practice direction material

Make an application for the expert

Draft a letter of instruction for the expert

See the client again and prepare a statement

Get them to sign the statement

Brief counsel for the Case Management Hearing

That you will have, in doing so, earned £200 towards your cost target.

Advertisements

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: