What is your role at HJA?
I am the founding partner and managing partner of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors.
I qualified as a solicitor in 1977 and founded the firm the same year (before qualifying, in fact) with Henry Hodge and Peter Jones.
I took on the role of managing partner at the outset and when Henry retired in 1988, I combined the role with that of senior partner.
What was your founding vision for the firm?
I was a witness in a case when a friend was wrongfully arrested and charged with assaulting the police at a demonstration in 1971.
In the process which led to his acquittal in the courts after two trials, I realised the political and socially useful side to the law.
I had vaguely thought that the law was concerned with conveyancing, wills and probate. It was a revelation to see that solicitors could have a role in a human rights issue.
I decided on a career helping individual citizens to assert and defend their rights against powerful opponents like the state, the police, local authorities and big corporations.
Our founding ethos of fighting for justice – using the law to protect the rights of citizens and save them from harm and injustice remains today.
What is your future vision for the firm?
To carry on the same great work that we have done for the past 42 years.
When I started the firm, we had a flourishing and fully-funded legal aid scheme. However, over the years it has been decimated, particularly since 2010 and the imposition of utterly misguided austerity measures.
The Ministry of Justice came in for the biggest cuts. There are large parts of the law where legal aid is no longer available. Access to justice has once again become the preserve of the rich and powerful.
It is particularly outrageous that citizens have lost their right to legal aid as a result of damage to the economy caused by City bankers and banks who were bailed out after the crash of 2008.
We are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to fund our work so that we can still help our clients. And we will continue to campaign for the restoration of legal aid.
One day it will come back if we have any ambition to create a modern and properly functioning social democratic state.
What would you say are the main challenges facing the legal sector?
Funding is a perennial issue in our sector. We pride ourselves on being creative and when it comes to funding, we have to be.
The rates for criminal legal aid work were frozen in 1996 where they have stayed except for a cut of 8% in 2016! To keep pace with the Retail Price Index, rates would have to rise by 160%.
However, people need representation and we’re one of the few law firms that remains committed to providing criminal defence.
We have a range of options for clients in other areas too including no-win, no-fee, deferred fee arrangements, legal expenses insurance and in some cases crowdfunding.
How is employment law evolving?
Any employer will tell you that employment law is plentiful and challenging. And it is one area that employers really do need to keep abreast of the law.
The Equality Act has seen many more cases being brought for discrimination.
What are your views around what the future of work will look like?
We are clear that we are not going to be replaced by robots. IT can help to save costs and allow law firms to become more efficient, but it can never replace the expertise of a lawyer in skilled face-to-face advice.
Many people who come to us have been through a traumatic experience and are vulnerable. They need to speak to a human being. The Government’s idea that lawyers can be replaced by technology (except when they have to go to court) is completely flawed.
As an office we’re almost paperless. Not only is it good for the environment, it creates more office space. Digital files can be accessed anywhere which gives great flexibility and less chance of miss filing or lost files.
The demand for flexible working will continue too. We are very flexible, but at the same time our lawyers understand that our clients require face-to-face contact, and we must always support their needs.
You use the expression – fight for what’s right – can you go into this in more detail?
It comes back to why I first got into the law. My friend was fitted up by the police who concocted evidence after he was arrested. He was rightly acquitted when the evidence was tested.
We see many people being treated unjustly. We have a passion for our work and this drives us to get the very best results for our clients.
We are renowned for David and Goliath-type battles, asserting the rights of individuals against publicly-funded state bodies or private organisations with deep pockets.
Over the years I have led a team that represented Gulf War veterans and acted for the families of those killed in the King’s Cross Fire, the Marchioness disaster and New Cross Fire. More recently I have helped women get recognition and compensation from the Irish government for their incarceration in ‘Magdalene laundries’.
Colleagues across the firm are currently working on the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and are obtaining compensation for clients following the second Hillsborough inquest.
My colleague, partner Jocelyn Cockburn, has recently been successful in getting the Attorney General to quash the inquest of a nine-year old asthmatic girl and order a fresh inquest. Jocelyn unearthed new evidence that high levels of air pollution in London contributed to her death. The decision paves the way for a legal first with far reaching implications for other deaths from asthma and related respiratory conditions.
Another colleague, Raj Chada has represented many Extinction Rebellion protestors facing charges for exercising their right to peaceful protest.
This list goes on but what unites all of these cases is a common goal to fight for what’s right and get the results that our clients deserve.