In July we are delighted to announce that we will be welcoming Andrew Swaby to The Johnson Partnership. A giant of both the Crown and Magistrates’ Courts, Andrew is here to lend added presence to our advocacy team.

 

A man who is as happy at Shepcote Lane Police Station as he is in the Court of Appeal, Andrew will be joining our Sheffield office team at 620 Attercliffe Road.

 

As one of the best known advocates in Sheffield, we suspect that Andrew will bring with him his own Pied Piper following. We hope that Andrew and all who come with him will approve of the change and feel happy as part of a brand new scene.

We want to offer our heartiest congratulations to Benn Robinson on his 2:1 LLP from Nottingham Trent University. Benn completed his degree on a part time basis whilst working hellishly hard in the firm’s Crown Court Department.

 

Most people are rewarded for great exam grades with champagne, flowers, and a party; in Benn’s case his reward is a further two years study alongside all the demands of a training contract.

 

For the first time we have decided to have one of the up and coming members of the firm undertake a training contract at the same time as completing a distance learning LPC. Inevitably, the process will be demanding. Benn will have to learn about two entirely new areas of law at the same time as passing both skills and academic exams on a regular basis. It is true that the process wouldn’t suit everybody, but in Benn Robinson we believe we have the man for the job!

We are delighted to announce that from July 2017 Shazia Parveen is to join us at our Sheffield office. Situated in the John Banner Business Centre at 620 Attercliffe Road, Shazia will be well-positioned between Sheffield Magistrates’ Court and Shepcote Lane Police Station.

 

For many years Shazia Parveen has been the queen of Howells Criminal team. We count ourselves particularly lucky that she has agreed to transfer her allegiances and release her flat in our own Sheffield realm.

 

Shazia is well-renowned for her work both in police stations and at the Magistrates’ Court. Bail hearings, sentencing hearings, trials, Youth Court proceedings and all the rest of the daily fare of Magistrates’ Court life are meat and drink to Shazia.

 

We look forward to welcoming Shazia among us and hope that she is going to feel as positive about her new home as we do.

In recent times the LAA have visited both of our new offices. Back in May our new Lincoln premises at Unit 3, Waterside, Lincoln was visited by the LAA to confirm that the premises existed, to confirm that they were properly staffed, and to confirm that they met all of the requirements of the 2017 Contract.

 

Towards the end of June they had the pleasure of visiting at 4th Floor, 86 Victoria Street in Grimsby. We are happy to say that on this occasion the offices were found to be properly staffed, open for business, and with private interviewing facilities at the ready.

 

Inevitably, the new 2017 Crime Contracts have meant that a large number of new premises are being hired out as solicitors’ offices. We are delighted to see that the LAA are taking a proactive approach to confirming whether they are indeed compliant with the requirements of the new regime.

We have had time to reflect recently on how important bars have been to The Johnson Partnership. Our original business planning took place in several licensed bars. As the years have gone by we have spent increasing amounts of time in coffee bars. Much of our workplace endeavour is designed to move people from one side of some bars to the other.

Nevertheless, we never thought that we would become heavily involved in helping a stream of young people get their first foothold at the Bar as pupil barristers.

In times gone by, Vicky Sheppard-Jones moved from our Crown Court Department to become a successful pupil and tenant at Carmelite Chambers in London. In more recent times, James Olphert successfully found pupillage with the Crown Prosecution Service having worked with us for a relatively short period of time.

Helen Towers has worked with us both as an employee and a freelance police station advisor, and we are delighted to say that she is to start pupillage at Dere Street Chambers later this year.

The highly regarded Rebecca Coleman worked with us at The Johnson Partnership for about 2 ½ years, assisting in the Crown Court Department and advising in police stations. Rebecca is now a successful second six pupil at No 1 High Pavement Chambers in Nottingham.

We have received the brilliant news that Anthony Pettengell, a former valued member of the firm’s Business Defence and Fraud Department, has succeeded in his search for pupillage and is to join Fountain Chambers in Middlesbrough.

Our most recent success story centres around Rebecca Da Silva, who after a little over seven months with The Johnson Partnership has secured pupillage at Citadel Chambers in Birmingham, starting April 2018.

By offering day to day contact with members of the Bar, as well as solicitor HCAs, we have tried to ensure that all our would-be pupils are in the strongest possible position when it comes to making applications to Chambers. Opportunities for advocacy before judges in chambers and tribunals ensure that staff do not lose the skills that they have developed while mooting and during the BPTC. Familiarity with Crown Court documentation also means that at interview our staff are able to talk on an intensely practical level to the interviewing panels.

All in all, whilst it may not assist in our staff retention statistics, we are delighted to have been able to help some marvellous young talent along the way.

DMJ

With the combining of the Grimsby and Scunthorpe duty solicitor rotas, local solicitors have had a choice to make! It is not possible for a particular solicitor to be on the police station rotas for both Grimsby and Scunthorpe. All of the solicitors who are on either of these two rotas are eligible to appear as duty solicitor at Grimsby Magistrates’ Court, but they can only be on the rota as duty solicitor at the police station of their choice. The closure of the Scunthorpe custody suite for temporary refurbishment meant that many solicitors opted to be part of the Grimsby rota leaving Scunthorpe with relatively little cover.

Mindful of our longstanding commitment to the town of Scunthorpe The Johnson Partnership made a conscious decision to ensure that we still provided duty solicitor cover at Scunthorpe Police Station. At the moment, a third of the duty solicitors available to service clients in Scunthorpe come from our firm.

Those solicitors who assumed that the refurbishment of the custody suite could mean there was no work available for a duty solicitor in Scunthorpe have been proven wrong. The increase in voluntary interviews, for which duty solicitor services are still available, and the use of the police station for short stay prisoners and on bail backs has meant there is still a continuous flow of work to be looked after.

It will be interesting to see how many solicitors decide that they need to pay Scunthorpe the attention that it deserves when the new rota is published on 1st July 2017.

DMJ

In times when we have seen court after court slowly bled of work to a point where it can be declared unviable and closed, concerns are now being raised for Barnsley Magistrates’ Court.

It is some time since Saturday work moved from Barnsley to Sheffield. The middle of 2017 will see custody work being re-directed to the Sheffield Magistrates’ Court for one or two days a week.

This inevitably brings about savings in terms of prison transport and the like, but obviously makes life harder for the families of prisoners making their first court appearance, who may have to fight for bail or even face immediate sentencing.

Our clients can rest-assured that both Brian Bushell and Eric Bray will be available, whether cases are being dealt with at Barnsley or Sheffield. Amy-Jo Cutts, who spans the two offices, working both at Barnsley and Sheffield will be on hand to assist, as well as the Sheffield Johnson Partnership team of Maz Sharif, Kevin O’Donovan, Sarah Staniland, Pari Seeley, and Richard Davies.

We aim to ensure that there is always strong cover around for anybody brought from Barnsley, but wherever possible we aim to ensure that cases are being dealt with by a friendly face.

Yet again this week an earnest young man, who claimed to have sent me a letter over a month ago, rang to try to sell me his company’s telephone services. The service in question was the provision of hold music accompanied by softly spoken promotional and reassuring words about the firm.

Over the years we have done many things to entertain our clients whilst they are holding for the member of staff of their choice. Originally we had a CD player linked to the system which played the most up to date number of the NOW Various Artists Collections.

After a while, each member of staff was allocated a seven day period, during which they were able to play the music of their choice.

Eventually interest in the process waned to the extent that we discovered we were still playing Elton John’s Step into Christmas in the third week of March.

In recent times an intermittent beep or just simple silence had been our chosen default position.

In deciding whether to avail ourselves of the new service offer, considerations had to be given to what our competitors are up to. In recent weeks, I have been told while on hold at one firm “We were founded in 1765” while another claimed boldly to have been “Solicitors since 2011”. I have been told about “Professionalism”, “Caring supportive staff”, “Committed team members”, “a broad range of services”, etc, etc, etc.

The sad truth of course is that I wanted to hear none of this. What I wanted was to speak to the person that I was ringing.

Perhaps the most exasperating aspect of the whole “hold information” scenario, is when it starts to loop round and you are told for the third or fourth time about the date of foundation of the firm or the “client-friendly offices”.

You will not be surprised to hear that on balance I thought it might be a better idea to spend some money training and encouraging our front office staff to deal with calls in a “friendly and efficient” manner, rather than paying someone in a studio to state what clients would either think was blindingly obvious or a pack of lies.

When it comes to “hanging on the telephone” we are firmly of the opinion that “silence is golden”.

DMJ

The 2017 Criminal Contract has brought with it many changes and demands. Some of the principle changes have been centred around the qualifications required from and the demands made of duty solicitors.

Attending at least twelve police stations, at least twelve Magistrates’ Court hearings, and another twelve attendances that can be made up at police stations, Magistrates’ Court appearance or Crown Court appearances, has upped the ante somewhat for would-be duty solicitors. The solicitors have to work on legal aid contract work for a minimum of 14 hours every week, is something that has also given many pause for thought.

The fact that these 14 hours have to be carried out from the office at which the solicitor is, is something that has been a further challenged. The obligation for solicitors to accept and attend police station cases on four of their assigned duty slots around the year is something which should present no problem, but again something which seems to have caused consternation.

A number of our oldest and finest former colleagues have simply decided that the new regulations are too demanding. Rather than attempting the impossible, eleven former colleagues have decided to bow out gracefully before the start of the April rota.

We would like to thank them for all their endeavours and their commitment to the firm over many years. All can rest assured that if the spirit moves them to re-dedicate themselves to criminal legal aid work, we would be delighted to have them back on board.

Thanks again and stay in touch one and all!

DMJ

In days when many firms rely on the services of freelance clerks we have made a conscious decision to keep our Prison Law work in-house.

Many firms now run their Prison Law Departments on the backs of freelance Prison Law advisors working mainly from home. Traditionally, the split is 70% of any fee to the clerk and 30% to the firm. Inevitably however, this can lead to difficulties.

Knowing when and where to ring your advisor, ensuring messages reach the right person at the right time, guaranteeing good secretarial and admin back-up and ensuring that quality checks carried out are on a regular basis are all areas of concern where clerks or solicitors are working independently.

By keeping all our work in-house we can guarantee a central point of contact, which will generally find prisoners speaking to the person who knows most about the case. We can guarantee that even long and complex documents are produced with speed and accuracy.

A cooperative working team means that people are always available to cover one another’s cases, without there being concerns about whether fees are going to have to be split and shared.

Perhaps most important of all, file reviews, to check the quality of work, can be carried out on a regular face to face basis. These file reviews are crucial, not only do they let the supervisor have a sense of the quality of the fee-earner’s work, they also give some insight into the depth of knowledge and understanding that any fee-earner has. If something is found to be not quite right, it is important that it is not just reviewed but it is actually chased up and rectified with speed.

It goes without saying that by having everybody in-house we can ensure these processes run smoothly, efficiently, and to the benefit of all.

Whilst sometimes we might have to use an agent for very long distance work, it continues to be our determination to provide a home-based, home-grown team to look after the needs of some of the most vulnerable.

DMJ

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