Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research

Legal aid lawyers more efficient than publicly funded private lawyers

Full report: The Impact of Private versus Public Legal Representation on Criminal Proceedings, pdf 510Kb 

Release date: 10.30AM, Wednesday 13 February 2019

Preliminary results presented today at the 6th Annual Applied Research in Crime and Justice Conference show that publicly funded cases assigned to private lawyers are less likely to be dealt with summarily (i.e. in a Local Court) and are less likely to be committed for sentence than cases dealt with by in-house legal aid lawyers. Cases assigned to private lawyers are also more likely to result in a late guilty plea.

These are key findings from the first ever comparison in Australia of private versus public lawyers in finalising publicly funded legal aid cases.

BOCSAR compared outcomes for cases dealt with by legal aid funded private lawyers to cases dealt with by in-house legal aid lawyers while controlling for differences in the types of case dealt with by private vs. in-house lawyers.

The research was undertaken at the request of Legal Aid NSW, which had become concerned that the 'billable hours' system and the comparatively low fees paid to private lawyers doing legal aid work may create an incentive to maximise the number of hours spent on each case, thereby delaying the resolution of cases.

BOCSAR found that a case assigned to a private lawyer is approximately 13 to 14 percentage points less likely to be dealt with summarily after entering a guilty plea compared to a similar case dealt with by an in-house lawyer.

BOCSAR also found that private lawyers funded by Legal Aid are between 8 to 9 percentage points more likely than in-house lawyers to enter a late guilty plea.

Commenting on the findings the Executive Director of BOCSAR, Dr Don Weatherburn, said that they showed that the way lawyers are paid can make a big difference to the way criminal cases are dealt with.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 0419 494 408