How the other half live

In her interview on GMTV Heather Mills stated that she is "£1.5 million in debt in lawyers' fees". Now, I don't know her lawyers' hourly charging rates or how many hours they have spent on the matter, but a legal aid lawyer in London receives (I believe) £66 per hour for County Court work. On this basis a legal aid lawyer would have to work 22,727 hours to earn £1.5 million. If a reasonable number of annual billable hours for a divorce lawyer is 1200, it would therefore take a legal aid lawyer nearly 19 years to earn such a sum. Heather Mills instructed her lawyers about 18 months ago. Does this mean they are worth more than 12 times as much as a legal aid lawyer, some £800 per hour?

Now, I know there are a number of flaws to the above argument, but I think the basic point is still valid. The level of skill, knowledge and general competence required by a 'big-money case' lawyer is surely not twelve times that of a legal aid divorce lawyer, or anything like it. I am not for one moment saying that they should be paid at legal aid rates, or indeed that legal aid lawyers should be paid £800 per hour, but I think that high profile cases like the McCartney/Mills divorce add to the public perception of all divorce lawyers being 'fat cats', when the reality for most is quite different. The answer, of course, is that legal aid lawyers are worth considerably more than £66 per hour. As for Ms Mills' lawyers, I will leave it to the reader to decide whether they are worth their fees.

[Non-lawyer readers may have done the maths and be shocked to have calculated that, on the basis of the above figures, legal aid lawyers earn £79,000 per annum (assuming they do no private work). However, this does not take account of the lawyer's substantial overheads such as insurance, rent, equipment, wages for non fee earning staff etc. The amount that a legal aid lawyer actually receives will be a fraction of his/her fee income.]