I was a paralegal for five years before training and qualifying as a solicitor

noun_55084_ccI worked as a paralegal for five years before training and qualifying as a solicitor. I worked in a busy team doing almost exclusively legal aid work, on health and social care cases, inquests and actions against the police. The hours were often long and much of the work was urgent, so we were usually working to very short deadlines.

The clients were people who came to us for help at some of the most difficult times of their life – when they were fighting to get the social care support they needed for their disabled children, when their local council was threatening to close a vital service or after the death of a loved one in prison or police custody. Because of this, the work could take a significant emotional strain. It was not easy to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day. It always felt like we had too much to do, but it was difficult to turn people away when they had been let down or treated unfairly by the state.

Despite the low salaries paid at many firms doing legal aid work, I found it very difficult to get a training contract to qualify as a legal aid lawyer. Cuts to legal aid – and the rates of remuneration not being increased, even for inflation, for over 25 years – have meant that firms find it more and more difficult to offer training contracts and to pay decent salaries to their staff. Firms have also become increasingly reliant on paralegals to do much of the work on legal aid cases under the supervision of qualified solicitors.

I know from friends’ experiences at other firms that this ‘supervision’ can often be very light-touch, meaning that important cases are effectively run by paralegals. This cannot lead to clients receiving the best possible service, but it represents the current reality at some legal aid firms as they struggle to survive the cuts. The impact of legal aid cuts on the public is huge: the number of people receiving legal aid funding for their cases each year has fallen by hundreds of thousands since LASPO.

I think I am paid a decent salary by my firm, but I still have to live month-to-month, renting a room in a shared flat in London. While friends from university are starting to buy properties, the prospect of saving enough money for a deposit feels like a pipe dream to me.

The cuts to legal aid and the hostile environment created for us and our clients by some politicians and parts of the media make life difficult for us as legal aid lawyers, but most importantly ordinary people often have no effective way of accessing justice as a result of the cuts. Despite all of the challenges, I love my job and would not want to do anything else. I wanted to be a legal aid lawyer to help people – to try to use the law to improve peoples’ lives when they need it most, particularly when faced with unfair treatment by public bodies. I hope I will be able to continue to do this work for decades to come.

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I am a criminal legal aid lawyer applying for prosecution roles where my salary will double

icon_4259I am a newly qualified solicitor practising in criminal defence and prison law. My salary is £19,000.

Depending on what is in the diary I may be leaving my house at any time from 6am onwards for prison visits, disciplinary hearings or Parole Board hearings. These visits are very regular and take up significant time due to extensive travelling. If I am office based for the day, I usually arrive at 8:30am to take advantage of the quiet time before the phone starts ringing.

It is really difficult to describe a ‘typical day’ as matters and client issues come up often. During the day I may be called to cover a police station attendance, an urgent remand court hearing or cover for colleagues who have been called away themselves. It is not unusual to have to cover appointments or see clients when they attend the office outside of a pre-arranged appointment or cover client meetings when the assigned solicitor is otherwise engaged. This typically means having to get ‘on top of the papers’ in a very quick space of time to be able to take instructions and provide solid advice. On a quiet day, which has run according to my diary, I am able to leave the office between 5pm – 5:30pm. The out of hours call rota for the police stations, late night client meetings or at home preparation for the following day usually keeps me working into the evening from the relative comfort of my dining table.

I currently earn £19,000 which was increased from my training salary of £17,000. With this, I have to run a house and a car which is vital for my work. I am compensated on a low level for mileage but this is paid in arrears and out of office hours travelling time (e.g. setting off at 7:30am for a 9am start) is unpaid and flexi-working is not possible. I have credit card debt which is slowly being chipped away at but it is difficult to make ends meet with the rising costs of living. It is not unusual to have a fridge that only has milk and cheese in and because I am tired, I often don’t shop for groceries. The risks of buying a big grocery shop and being unable to afford to fuel my car is a very real worry.

I love my job, I love the clients, and despite the problems, I (generally) like how busy I am. The pay however is difficult to stomach and I am currently applying for prosecution roles where my salary will effectively double. It is not all about the money, but I sometimes feel that I would qualify for legal aid myself.

Without sounding selfish, the pay for legal aid lawyers is forcing us out of the profession and is unsustainable. If that continues to happen then our clients will suffer. I do not know of any legal aid lawyer who entered legal aid practice for the riches, but struggling to make ends meet leaves a sour taste in the mouth. We all want to help our clients and I am deeply saddened by having to leave criminal defence legal aid work, but it is now becoming a financial decision.

I left legal aid due to the low pay – I could not recommend this career to working class students

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I recently left the legal aid profession due to financial concerns. I worked in this field for three years, firstly as a paralegal and then as a trainee solicitor. I handled my own busy caseload consisting of crime, police actions, human rights and civil liberties cases. Due to the low pay, I worked a second job too: twice a week, my working day would not end until 10pm. I sometimes worked weekends too.

Most of my clients suffered from mental illness or were dealing with very difficult circumstances. The cases I found most challenging to deal with were cases involving deaths in custody, as you saw the impact on the family and their grief, but you had to manage their expectations and prepare them for a very long road to getting answers and justice. Some of these cases go on for years, and it is especially difficult to watch a family go through so much and jump over so many hurdles before finding out what happened to their loved ones. Other cases I found challenging were cases of outright racism or violence towards vulnerable clients, particularly if I had to watch footage of the incidents.

I have now left the legal aid profession and moved to a corporate law firm due to financial concerns and instability. I am unable to live with my parents rent-free and I am financially responsible not just for myself but also for my parents and family who are working class, first generation immigrants to the UK. I was simply unable to cope with this financial responsibility on a legal aid salary.

I started off my legal career on £19,000 as a paralegal and had to push for this to go up to £21,000/£22,000 during my training contract. It was impossible for me to live on £19,000 in London and support myself and my family, so I have taken on various second jobs during my time in legal aid – I have worked as a private tutor and as a waitress alongside my full time job. To put this into perspective, I was earning more during my student job throughout my A Levels and university.

My student job led to a management job immediately after I graduated from university, which paid £32,000. Pursuing a career in legal aid involved taking a pay cut of over £10,000, as well as earning less than I made while I was a student aged 17/18. During the entire time I was in legal aid, I felt so worried about how I was going to support myself and my family that I often found it difficult to breathe or sleep. I knew I couldn’t go on like this – I remember thinking that I did not work this hard throughout school, college and university to achieve top grades so I could end up poorer than my parents, who never had the same opportunities in life as I have had.

It was my experience of growing up in one of the most deprived and working class areas of London which motivated me to go into a career in law in the first place – I wanted to represent the people whose rights I saw being violated as I was growing up. Yet sadly, I can no longer recommend this career path to students from working class backgrounds, or anyone who does not have a family who can afford to financially support them. My previous firm attended various events and functions aimed at encouraging a more diverse range of applicants in the legal aid sector, but I never took part – I could not stand in front of a crowd of young students from poorer backgrounds and tell them to enter this profession, knowing that they will never be able to afford a decent home to rent (let alone buy) or a decent life with this career if they did not have parents who could afford to support them. Sadly, I think this will deter many bright, talented people from entering this profession and working with clients who could benefit from their experience so much.

I now work in a corporate firm where my salary upon qualification will be just under £60,000. I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I am sleeping better as a result. However, I was terribly sad to have to leave my clients. I am trying to take on more pro bono work at my new firm so I am still able to help those less fortunate, which was my sole motivation for undertaking a law degree and entering the legal profession in the first place.

I am worried that legal aid cuts mean that those who are the most vulnerable will not be able to access a lawyer to secure their rights. Rights are worthless if they cannot be enforced.

I am a trainee solicitor earning £16,000 a year

icon_14633I am a trainee solicitor earning £16,000 a year. I recently moved from a paralegal role at a large commercial law firm to become a trainee at a small high street firm, doing predominantly legal aid work.

As a paralegal, I had long-term prospects of generous pay and an abundance of supervisors to turn to for assistance. I now run my own case load, straddle various areas of law (currently probate, family and housing) and am very much left in charge of my own training.

I attend court for housing clients, attend local authority offices for child protection conferences and see probate clients on home visits or in the office. I spend the rest of my time drafting documents and undertaking research. Solicitors across the firm hand me tasks to complete and I have only recently learnt to say no. No matter how much I want to be useful, it’s not possible to work full-time, and do a good job, for three different departments!

I lead a simple life – I rent a room in a shared house in a relatively cheap part of the country. I am looking to get on the property ladder but will struggle to get a mortgage based on my salary of £16,000 per year. I am also learning how to drive and will need to make spending cuts in order to maintain a car for my job.

I was relieved when the Court of Appeal ruled that the evidence requirements which denied victims of domestic violence access to legal aid were unlawful. If there are to be future cuts in public spending, is there a risk that we will need to mount further challenges through the courts in order to protect our clients’ fundamental right to legal advice?

Legal aid cuts have left Law Centres struggling to keep our doors open

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I’m a housing solicitor for a busy London Law Centre. I have volunteered, trained with and qualified with my organisation, and financial difficulties have never been too far away from our door.

Legal aid cuts have left organisations such as mine struggling just to keep our doors open day-to-day. The future for my Law Centre and indeed our movement has never been in so much danger from government cuts.

I’m contracted to work a 37.5 hour week, but in practice most of us work through our lunch, stay late and either take work home or work at the weekends. Most days we are seeing new clients (about homelessness, disrepair, or unlawful evictions), complying with court directions, representing people on the county court duty scheme, and making applications to the Legal Aid Agency. Our offices are cramped, our furniture second-hand and interview space is always at a premium.

In my experience staff are overworked, anxious about the future but also utterly dedicated to their clients and our work. We fight our clients’ corner because we are their best and probably only chance to obtain access to justice and enforce their legal rights. The burden of holding your clients’ hopes in your hands is a heavy one and every day solicitors are faced with little frustrations such as creaking IT systems, faulty photocopiers, the Legal Aid Agency’s endless pedantry/bureaucracy and a lack of administrative support.  As a legal aid lawyer the fate of your entire organisation often falls on your hands alone and with that knowledge comes added work pressure.

Law Centre salaries do not keep up with inflation and our pay does not really change year to year. Each year solicitors stay because they care about the work and their clients but in doing so they sometimes sacrifice their health and their dreams of long term financial security. I do not envy my other lawyer friends who earn far greater sums in the city, I love my work, but I’d be lying if I said I did not worry about what the future holds for myself and the Law Centres movement in general.

Access to justice and the rule of law are readily bandied about by political parties but if we care about these concepts then there needs to be the political will to provide proper financial support for our under-resourced legal aid system.

I am a paralegal acting for people who lack mental capacity

 

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I am a paralegal working in court of protection, health and welfare litigation. I earn £19,000.

In this area of law, you are working for those who are assessed as lacking mental capacity in respect of a particular decision, this can be in relation to their care or where they live. Often they are deprived of their liberty, meaning they are under constant supervision and control and cannot leave their place of residence by themselves.

I have visited an elderly lady with dementia, who had escaped from her care home twice and an autistic gentleman with learning difficulties, who likes to wear women’s clothes and wanted to leave his residential placement to live in a hostel or a flat with lots of girls. I have visited a 31 year old who was in a car accident, aged 16, then 3 years later diagnosed with primary progressive MS, he was living miles away from his family and young daughter. In the office I spend the majority of my time drafting court documents or completing legal aid applications and forms.

Since working here I have witnessed several happy endings, recently a 70 year old traveller was assessed as having capacity and was released from hospital, where he had been deprived of his liberty for three months. A court order was put in place to restrict contact, but allow it to continue for an elderly lady with dementia who was being emotionally and verbally abused by her son, since the order was put in place the son has abided by the contact regime and the lady is doing well.

Since I started working as a paralegal in this team there have been cuts to the rates that barristers can receive and the rates that we can pay experts instructed in these matters. This has dissuaded those experts and barristers for continuing to do work in this area.

In my opinion the cuts to their fees, prey on those with a  conscience, those who are willing to do the work for the person at the centre of the case, knowing that it may not be a financially sensible decision. Those who are in a position where they have to consider finances carefully or no longer wish to work for such a small amount in comparison to the volume of work, will no longer assist in these matters.

I work more than 12 hour days, and get £12,000 a year to work in criminal defence.

I am a 24 year old trainee solicitor working in crime. I get paid £12,000 and work over 12 hours days.

I arrive noun_33418_ccat work at 8am. Phone calls from clients start now and end about 10pm

At 9:30 I have a prison visit. I normally sit around for 1 hour whilst my clientis found.

At 11am I check my mail, usually legal aid forms or certificates around 5 per day. I have to telephone clients who have filled in forms incorrectly (a high proportion of illiterate /vulnerable / elderly clients who don’t understand what the forms are actually asking and a lot of time is spent explaining the client situation to the court).

I typically do some legal research,admin and billing throughout the day. Admin usually means lots of time on hold to, or chasing, the  Legal Aid Agency, the police or the local council.

If I have to go to court, I will finish there at 4:30. When the court lists come out, I have to  check that we are still covered. Inevitably, I find that things have been pulled or moved up at the eleventh hour.

At 5pm I have client and barrister meetings so that my clients don’t have to take time off work.

I leave the office anywhere between 6pm and 9pm. I am on call for 12 hour shifts between 9pm and 9am about four times a month.

I’m 24, living with my parents, earning £12,000. I have a car loan to pay off and have to have a car for my job. I have an LPC loan to pay off which is crippling. I can’t afford day to day living as once I’ve paid the loans and helped out with household expenses there’s £200 left.

I am worried about the cuts, not for my  own struggle, that is essentially a choice, but I wonder how many people they expect to help clients on a pro bono basis? Access to justice is being totally denied.