Junkyard - interesting point on the 'ethics' - two examples.
1) Enron - an international (and well respected) firm of accountants basically deliberately shredded incriminating documents (against their professional code) simply to save their single biggest client
2) psychological studies have shown that even in a medical setting, doctors will act in certain ways depending on whether (or how) they have financial incentives. So even where health is at stake, money talks.
Legal aid doesn't pay a set hourly rate, basically the Government pays a "lump sum" calculated by reference to the type of case (e.g. murder pays more than theft) and by how many witnesses/how many pages of evidence/how many days of trial the case involves (up to a limit).
The rates I charge my private clients (i.e. not legal aid clients) is completely different.
But also bear in mind that the money I receive is a gross sum. Out of that money I have to deduct:
1) My business expenses (including premises, IT, transport etc)
2) My staff's salaries, PAYE and pensions
3) My own tax and NI contributions
And no-one pays me any sick pay, holiday pay or pension.
So suddenly legal aid looks a whole lot less attractive. And private-client hourly rates don't look quite so extortionate when you understand what they're paying for.