Ben LockeAll the kids and adults alike from Long Islands dense decade spanning pop punk scene traveled out to its newest premier venue, The Paramount Theatre, to watch one of the genre’s biggest success stories, Say Anything, take the stage. After stellar opening sets by Tailhart, The Sidekicks, and Murder By Death, the band took the stage roughly around 10 PM. Opening up with “The Writhing South”, a fan favorite from the bands first album “..Is A Real Boy”, the band started off with a strong start. After the bands latest single “Say Anything”, the classic “Alive With The Glory Of Love” caused the fans to burst in a dancing frenzy and the nightly moshing began. Max Bemis, the bands lead singer, looks like he would fit in more in the city’s indie-folk scene then fronting a pop punk band. Yet all the same he is one of the most entertaining front men out there.The band continued with “That Is Why” and ‘Do Better” which prompted massive sing-along. “Shishka (Girlfriend)”, another classic, had the energy of a war chant as everyone in the audience knew every single word. “Mara And Me” and “Wow Can I Get Sexual Too” just added fuel to the fire with each song the crowd was getting more and more fired up. Even “Night Song”, from the bands latest album, got the reception of a greatest hit. “Hate everyone” and “Woe” showcased the contrast in the bands musical style transitioning from hardcore punk to more upbeat tender songs that truly exemplify Bemis’s unique style. Bringing out Shelly Dupree for “Overbiter” was a nice touch that showcased a lesser-known song, which in my opinion, is one of the best off their latest release “Anarchy, My Dear”. They then bursted into “Burn A Miracle” giving the crowd one final jolt before leaving the stage. The encore consisted of deep cut “Belt” and “ The Steven Hawking”, the 8-minute zinger that closes their latest release. If this show proved anything, it’s that Say Anything are truly the defenders of their genre and show that pop punk is not just no talent kids making loud noises, its an art form.
But is competitive tendering really the ideal solution for criminal legal aid? And if not, how can we persuade the government not to go down that road? Superficially, tendering is attractive for the government because it believes it is likely to achieve the best price for the work and ensure value for money. However, there are some real complexities: the government has never satisfactorily identified what is being bid for and many firms simply do not have the expertise to make realistic bids in a complex market. Many of the factors impacting on the cost of undertaking the work are external and beyond the control of practitioners, making it impossible to predict with any certainty the true cost of the work for the purpose of any competitive bid process. There is also no way of guaranteeing the share of the market each firm will get in any competitive bid process. This lack of certainty from the outset would create enormous problems for firms even in coping with a bid process. We can, of course, continue to try to resist whatever the government proposes. There are those who might ask why, when our resistance met with such success last time, it will not succeed again? The answer is quite simply that this time, the political and economic environment is much harsher. The imperative on the MoJ to save money is unequivocal, and it has been made crystal clear to the Law Society that retaining the status quo is not an option. Even if the current system of administrative fees were retained, the cuts that would need to be made to those fees to generate the savings the Treasury is demanding would probably see many firms go out of business. Simple resistance to whatever model of competitive tendering is proposed in the forthcoming consultation would quite likely result in the implementation either of the tendering model or of the fee cuts, either of which would be liable to have very serious adverse consequences for the profession and the justice system. But what if we, as a profession, were able to come up with an alternative proposal – or several proposals – that would enable the MoJ to meet the Treasury’s demand to save money from the criminal legal aid budget, yet would also provide a model that most criminal law firms could live with? Notwithstanding the need to save money, at the same time the government has a duty to ensure that the supplier base remains viable and is able to continue to meet the needs of clients. How it achieves this is yet to be decided. We are thus in a prime position now to influence the government’s thinking about the future of criminal legal aid tendering. As a representative body, the Law Society must seek to represent the views of our members, and so far as possible to protect your interests. In a time of austerity, protecting your interests may well be a question of seeking to minimise damage; and doing so may entail accepting some unpalatable political realities. It is for this reason that the Society is currently asking some difficult questions of itself and of you, in an effort to find an alternative solution for criminal legal aid procurement that will minimise the damage to the future of the profession and the vital work that you do for your clients. The first stage of this work was a short online survey to which over 200 members responded (2). We would like to thank everyone who took the time to contribute. Following consideration of the results of this survey, a more extensive consultation with the profession is planned. We intend to consult very shortly on more detailed proposals for alternatives to price competitive tendering, based on the ideas that had the most support in the survey, and other ideas that have been presented to us by our members. The outcome of the consultation will be a key part of our strategy to seek to steer the government away from price competitive tendering as the only future model for criminal legal aid, and will strengthen our arguments in favour of other, alternative models. We therefore encourage as many members as possible who undertake crime work to respond to the consultation. Regular updates can be obtained by signing up to the Society’s ‘Legal Aid E-Alert’. The results of the survey gave us a very helpful snapshot of the views of practitioners about a number of key issues. 5. There are mixed views on single fee The Law Society survey – results 2. There is overwhelming opposition to price competitive tendering Real complexities (1) ‘The main conclusion of this further analysis is that an important group of suppliers who are key to fulfilling the LSC’s statutory obligations in providing a criminal defence service is at risk.’ Otterburn Legal Consulting: ‘The Law Society and Ministry of Justice Impact of the MoJ Green Paper proposals on legal aid firms – further analysis for the Ministry of Justice’ (10 March 2011). (2) There were 220 responses in total to the survey, although not all the questions were answered by each respondent. The idea of clients being required to repay legal aid in similar fashion to student loans generated a very mixed response. Some 25.3% agreed, but the same number strongly disagreed. There was no majority on either side of the fence, with 19% neutral on the question and 42 respondents skipping the question, the highest number of non-responses for any of the suggestions.Several respondents proactively raised the use of frozen assets to pay legal fees as a worthwhile reform. Discussions on this are already ongoing between the Law Society and the MoJ. However, while this would generate some savings, it may well not be sufficient to appease the government in respect of its determination to save as much as possible from the legal aid budget. If the aim is to avert the threat of a disastrous price-tendering scheme, another idea will need to be found. Alice Mutasa is policy adviser (criminal legal aid) at the Law Society. Richard Miller is head of legal aid at the Law Society 1. There is little enthusiasm for the status quo 6. There are mixed views on: the concept of clients being asked to pay more/legal aid as a loan Some 44.5% supported the concept of the single fee, under which a firm would be paid the whole fee for both the litigation and the advocacy element of the case, while 31.6% were opposed. There was clear and strong opposition to the move proposed by the previous government in 2010 to contract with a limited number of firms in each area. Over 60% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this proposal. ‘Competitive tendering’ – two words that strike fear and dread into the hearts of many a hardened criminal legal aid practitioner. But what do they mean, and why, after several failed attempts, is the government so keen to introduce this into a market that is almost unanimously opposed to the very concept? The last attempt by the Legal Services Commission to introduce best value tendering (BVT) in 2009 failed before it had even begun, when in the face of fierce opposition from the Law Society and almost the entire legal profession, the Ministry of Justice asked the LSC to withdraw the proposal. And this after the LSC had already spent thousands of pounds employing consultants to design a surreal online auction in which firms would engage in a suicidal ‘race to the bottom’, trying to submit the lowest possible tender in an attempt to ‘underbid’ other firms for contracts. The phrase ‘competitive tendering’ has become something of a mantra for the current and previous governments. It is trotted out on almost every occasion that a minister is called upon to speak about legal aid, and appears to have been adopted without question as the solution to what is perceived by government as the ‘unacceptable’ spend on criminal legal aid. In these difficult times of belt-tightening, there is no government department or public service that has escaped cuts – many of them painfully severe, as we have seen with the drastic cuts to the scope of civil legal aid. It has been made abundantly clear that criminal legal aid will be no exception, despite the lack of any increase to fees for over 15 years; cuts to fees in some areas; and the acknowledged steady decrease in criminal work. There is no specific figure that ministers want to save – they just want to save as much as they can, as soon as they can. We have pointed to the drop in volumes and the effects of previous cuts, and argued that they have made significant savings. But they expect more to be made, and still believe that competitive tendering is the ‘magic bullet’ that will enable them to assuage the Treasury. The government has promised a consultation paper in April. Until that is published, we will have no idea what form this ‘competitive tendering’ might take, nor how (or indeed whether) it would work. We have not yet seen any data to demonstrate how it would save money from the criminal legal aid budget, while avoiding causing irretrievable damage to a fragile supplier base (1). 4. There are limits to the amount of consolidation that would be supported What next? Let us be clear, whether we stand and fight whatever new incarnation of competitive tendering the government proposes, or whether we try to find a less painful alternative, the future will not be easy. Whatever happens, it is implausible that we will be able to avoid cuts of some kind to the criminal legal aid budget, and whatever emerges at the end, some will be worse affected than others. The Law Society is committed to trying to find a solution which will result in the fewest number of losers possible. It is our intention that any solicitor who wishes to do so and who meets appropriate quality standards should be able to continue undertaking criminal defence work. However, this may not mean that everyone will be able to do so without changes to the way in which they work. We need your help in doing this. This is why we are asking that as many of you as possible engage with this process by sending us your ideas and responding to the consultation. Help us to seize this chance for the profession to shape its own destiny, rather than simply being at the mercy of whatever the MoJ decides to inflict on us next. 3. There is clear support for some consolidation of the market Only 11.9% of respondents strongly agreed that the status quo should be retained. More than half disagreed or were neutral. It was not the most popular of the options presented. Some of those supporting the status quo, on the assumption that there would be further cuts in rates, made the point that this would tend to consolidate the market, which might make the low fees more viable. However, of all the options put forward in the survey, the one that attracted the greatest support was to reduce the number of firms by means of increases in quality standards. Some 57.1% supported consolidation by means of higher minimum standards, on the understanding that all those meeting the standards would be entitled to a contract. Only 24.8% disagreed. Strengthening trade links Some 73.7% of respondents strongly disagreed with the option of a tender based on price after a quality threshold, and a further 15.7% disagreed. Even if the tender included quality criteria as part of the bidding process, almost half strongly disagreed, and a total of 73.1% were opposed. The idea of the LSC tendering with a small number of head contractors did not find favour. Two-thirds of respondents opposed this concept. There was also majority opposition, albeit by a smaller majority, to the concept of block contracting. read more
BATON ROUGE – No one would have expected an outstanding offensive night from LSU considering what transpired in the opening minutes of Monday’s nonconference game against Southern Mississippi.The Tigers failed to make a field goal until almost five minutes had elapsed. But, LSU ended up scoring a season-high total of first-half points en route to an 87-67 victory over the Golden Eagles.Jarell Martin scored 24 points, while both Jordan Mickey and Tim Quarterman registered double-doubles as the Tigers (10-2) extended their winning streak to seven games.Martin, who was one rebound short of a double-double, was 10 of 15 from the field. Mickey finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He also blocked six shots. Quarterman ended with 12 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. He also handed out six assists.Keith Hornsby and Jalyn Patterson also scored 10 points each for the Tigers, who shot 49 percent from the field (35 of 71).“We started off with jumpers,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “Once we settled in and understood making the extra pass and getting the ball from one side of the floor to the other, we were more crisp. We made the right plays and had less turnovers. We were moving the ball and getting easy baskets.”Chip Armelin led the Golden Eagles (5-6) with a career-high 28 points. Matt Bingaya added 13 points, while Davon Hayes had 11.“We played fine for the most part on offense,” USM coach Doc Sadler said. “On defense, we could have done things differently. Everything we got tonight was not at the basket and that makes it hard. At the same time, we get 67 points against a team that may be the second best in the SEC.”LSU forward Jordan Mickey (25) dunks the ball in front of Southern Miss Golden Eagles guard Matt Bingaya (2) in the first half at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.LSU missed its first nine field goal attempts. Hornsby made the Tigers’ first basket almost five minutes into the game although LSU only trailed USM 8-6 at that point.After falling behind 15-8, the Tigers finally got even after Martin’s basket capped a run of seven straight points. Quarterman’s layup 9:21 before halftime gave LSU the lead for good at 21-19.From there, the Tigers outscored the Golden Eagles 20-3. Mickey scored seven points, while Patterson came off the bench to contribute five points during this stretch. Patterson’s 3-pointer put LSU in front 41-22 with 3:28 left in the opening half.“We just try to stay confident,” Quarterman said. “There was plenty of basketball left to play (after the slow start). Our team did a good job of moving the ball around and creating open shots. Coming back from Christmas break and being focused was big for us.”The Tigers held a 49-33 halftime lead and made sure there would be no USM rally. A 9-0 run put LSU in front 61-39 slightly more than four minutes into the second half. Martin had two baskets, including a 3-pointer, in the stretch. The Golden Eagles came no closer than 16 points the rest of the way. TIP-INS Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have lost three games in a row for the first time this season. Southern Mississippi has lost all five of its road games by an average of 18 points.LSU: The seven-game winning streak is the longest for the Tigers since Johnny Jones became coach two seasons ago. The last time LSU won seven games in a row was three seasons ago in Trent Johnson’s final year as coach. UP NEXT Southern Mississippi hosts Louisiana Tech on Saturday.LSU hosts Savannah State on Saturday. M&M BOYS Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey continued to provide offensive firepower for the Tigers. Martin, who increased his scoring average to 17.5 points, has reached double figures in all but one game. Mickey, who is averaging 15.6 points, has scored in double figures in all but two games. BIG HOMECOMING Chip Armelin, who played his high school basketball at Sulphur, scored a career-high 28 points. Armelin, who transferred from Minnesota after two seasons, scored 20 points against Nebraska for the Golden Gophers in his freshman campaign. STAT-SHEET FILLER Tim Quarterman’s double-double was the first of his career. He has scored in double figures five times during the Tigers’ winning streak. Quarterman’s 14 rebounds were six more than his previous high of eight against Vanderbilt last season. His six assists equaled his second highest total of the season. read more