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Sole proprietor: Ged Hale Turnover: £750,000 Total number of partners: One Total number of fee-earners: Seven Total number of staff: 22 Main practice area: Criminal defence Number of offices: Four Locations: Barnsley, Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Sheffield
“I’m seriously considering whether to continue flogging a dead horse or looking for pastures new,” says Ged Hale, the sole practitioner at criminal defence specialist firm GV Hale & Co and a leading light in the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association.
Hale has always been one of the more upbeat members of the increasingly depressed criminal defence fraternity. He has prided himself on being an innovator who has run his business at a respectable profit through the tough times of a 10-year pay freeze. After all, Hale is the solicitor who once suggested to the Home Secretary that defence firms should be allowed to advertise their services on police handcuffs. “Call Hale for bail,” is the firm’s slogan.
“We’ve always been adventurous and prepared to try and expand to counter the plunging profitability due to a pay freeze for the last 10 years,” he says. “You have to churn the work.”
His approach is, as he puts it, “stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap”. He argues that the only way to do magistrates court work and make a profit - “minimal though that might be” - is to deal in volume and turn cases over as quickly as possible, “as opposed to getting a small number of cases and extracting every pound out of the Legal Services Commission”. He claims that the firm has the highest rates of first-time disposal cases in the lowest standard fee category in the Leeds area.
The firm has innovated in other ways, such as employing an in-house barrister, which means that the firm can maximise fee income from better-remunerated Crown Court work. Hale also has rights of audience in the higher courts. Last year the solicitor launched the first dedicated legal advice helpline for motorists who are facing driving bans due to speeding offences.
But as the criminal defence bar prepares to withdraw its services in protest against legal aid cuts, the solicitor is thinking of calling it a day some 20 years after he started his practice in Thurnscoe, a mining village near Barnsley in Yorkshire.
“Solicitors are in a far worse position and have been for ages,” he says. “As night follows day, the criminal justice system is in a state of near collapse because of disillusionment among the profession and the ever-increasing demands of running a practice on lower incomes, while their clients are being prosecuted by other agencies who are civil servants, or quasi-civil servants, on index-linked salaries with pensions.”