I have witnessed several happy endings

 

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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.

We are all poorer for the cuts

I am a 30 year-old Trainee Solicitor working in housing law. My salary is £18,590 pa.

My clients are mostly social housing tenants facing eviction, or are already homeless and seeking accommodation from the Council, or have problems of disrepair in their homes.

I don’t have a typical day as such. I always start before 9am and try to finish at 5.30pm, but normally this ends up being 6-6.30pm. Whether I have a lunch break depends on whether I have urgent work to do, such as threaten a local authority with judicial review for not helping a client who is on the streets. Because I run my own caseload I like to take ownership over the work and I will do whatever is needed to get the job done for the clients. It’s a real cliché but I don’t do the work for the money – I do it for the same reason I went into law, to help people who are, for one reason or another, unable to enforce their rights.

I am fortunate enough to have family who have paid for my LPC, and a partner who earns more than me (though still not a lot compared to our peers). Without both of those I can’t see how I could have afforded to go into law.

The gap between the perception of legal aid lawyers’ wages and the reality is astounding. Even one of our clients assumed our solicitors earn six figures. I have worked in housing law since 2006 and had to take a pay cut of £10k from my previous role in a charity in order to train. £18,590 might not sound too bad, but when you live in the most expensive city in the world and your friends earn twice what you do, it does get to you – it’s all relative. My wage on qualification will not be much better.

The reality is that the cuts to legal aid have compoundnoun_237310_cc
ed the huge problems of social immobility where people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are shut out from pursuing a legal career, and for that we are all poorer.

 

There is no incentive to working in legal aid anymore

I am a thirty year old paralegal working in criminal legal aid. I earn £17,000.

My typical day at work involves running my own caseload. I have around 40 clients who are facing criminal proceedings, varying from theft to murder. I manage cases from start to finish. My job is to take the client’s account, take any defence witness statements, chase the Crown Prosecution Service for outstanding evidence, which then has to be reviewed, and I also arrange for expert reports to be undertaken, which can be an extremely lengthy process.noun_89997_cc

Some clients can suffer with mental health problems, can be addicted to alcohol or drugs, can be volatile or emotionally distressed. Sometimes I may be sworn or shouted at, however, it is vital that these clients are treated with dignity and respect. I often refer these clients on to local support services if necessary. It is extremely important to me that, although my job is to take the client’s instructions, they get the chance to tell me about their issues, although equally important to keep a sometimes difficult client on track. There can be a fine art to this.

I also attend Magistrates and Crown Court hearings, along with any conferences that a client may have with his or her barrister. I visits clients in prison, who now can be very distressed as the prison service is also suffering severe cut backs and prisoners are held in their cells for most of the day.

By the time I qualify, I will have spent 6 years studying towards my degree, and a further two years studying part time towards my Legal Practice Course. A training contract will take two years part time, but I hope to be able to have some time knocked off for experience in criminal law, and I also hope to be able to complete this at the same time as my LPC. This would all have cost me £20,000. The average salary of a newly qualified criminal solicitor in my local area is around £25,000. When I worked as a legal secretary on the outskirts of London (with no legal qualifications), I earned £32,000. Where is the incentive? The simple answer is – there isn’t one.

Due to the cut backs and uncertainty in legal aid, firms have become stagnant, there are no funds to take on extra members of staff, there have been no pay rises in over 5 years and no bonuses or incentives to work towards.

Most students will opt for the higher paying career route, not legal aid. The legal aid sector is sure to dwindle, and those who, like me, want to practice in the legal aid sector to help the vulnerable, will be few and far between. We must protect those who cannot afford to pay for legal services.

I would not want my solicitor to say they did not have time for my family

I’m a trainee solicitor specialising in the defence of fraud, white-collar crime and regulatory matters. It is somewhat a fancy title, but I feel the salary certainly does not reflect that (I earn £16,000). Rather despondently, I have to admit that I earned more as a receptionist during my University vacations than I do now, and that was without the qualifications, and the inevitable debts of obtaining a degree and the subsequent Legal Practice Course (LPC).

My day typically begins at 6:30am when I get up to get ready for work. I’m out of the house by 7:30am to make the hour and a half London commute to the office. At the office, I begin following up emails and messages I’ve received over night from clients or counsel. This job is most certainly not a nine to five.

It is then a matter of either hours of considering and analysing prosecution papers, court or prison visits or back-to-back conferences with whoever requires my attention that day. This will usually be counsel, experts, clients or perhaps more often than not their family members. Many people fail to acknowledge that it is not just my client who goes through the legal proceedings but also their friends and relatives. The legal aid agency does not pay for my time to meet with family members (unless they are a potential defence witness) so much of this I do pro bono (“for free”). Why do I do this? If the roles were ever to be reversed I would not want my solicitor to say they did not have time for my family or friends, so I do for them what I would want done for me.

In fact, a lot of what I do is pro bono; before funding is in place or once a case has been closed I still do what I can to help a client. Often, I am all they have to help them through the most trying and daunting time of their life and to turn them away because I do not get paid for it would be unjust.

If I am not in the office I may have to see my client in a prison or a Court hundreds miles from the office. This would take me out of the office all day and be costly in travel. Fortunately, my firm does reimburse me personally for my travel fees but this often leaves them out of pocket. This is because there is a limit on what can be claimed from the legal aid agency.

After a long day at the office, court, prison or wherever I may be, I am lucky if I am home before 8pm. Twice a week I also study my LPC course in the evenings, so on these nights it is more like 10pm. Once home, and when I say home, I mean my parents home. I eat dinner and prepare whatever I need for the following day and sleep.

I am thankful to my parents who tolerate me still living at home. I returned from University with the promise to myself, and them, that “I’ll only be at home for a year”. Three years later and I’m still living with my parents. I had every intention of moving out, but the reality of limited earnings, the high cost of London rent, my LPC and student loan repayments, I had no choice but to reconsider.

When I qualify I am hoping to be on a salary which allows me to live independently… I can only think this is what the myth means when they describe all lawyers as “fat cats lining their pockets”.

Further cuts will mean experienced practitioners will not venture into legal aid

cropped-cropped-save-legal-aid-banner51.jpgI am a newly qualified solicitor practising in housing law.

A typical day is never how I typically think it would play out. In the perfect “typical day” I would come into work at 0930 and leave at 1730. Write some brilliant submissions for a clients case and have some lunch.

However a typical day, as it more often than not plays out, is, as soon as I walk into the office, the reception area is full of clients for our early morning walk in surgery for housing / benefits. Myself and 4 colleagues  go through each client advising them and booking appointments for some we can help under legal aid for more complex matters and wrap up about 11:30.

We then have to deal with, at least once a week now, an emergency case where we have to prepare for Judicial Review or last minute Possession hearing while we juggle our large case loads, meaning lunch is 10 minutes at about 1600 and we don’t leave till at least 1830.

Student loans, credit cards and other obligations, totalling in the thousands with their commitment to only reduce by a little every month makes it a difficult scrape at times, when working primarily in publicly funded areas of law.

Legal Aid cuts have already left their mark by removing advice for debt and benefits out of scope. While I (and my team) conduct pro-bono work offline and work online at further cuts will mean experienced practitioners will not venture into Legal Aid as we would be only be able to help a small percentage of people and have limited remuneration to keep us going.

I am passionate about a career in public law, but the changes to legal aid have made it increasingly less viable.

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Coins, by Timur Zima, Noun Project

The nature of public law means that work is often urgent, but it also varies. Today I came in just before 900 for a phone conference with counsel to discuss an emergency judicial review. Judicial Review is the means by which individuals can challenge decisions made by government bodies, and can often be the only way that someone can change or reverse something very unfair. This can include bringing judicial review claims against the police.

Shortly after my conference, I was frantically putting together papers for Court and by 0945 I was on my bike to the Adminstrative Court Office with papers and a cheque to pay for the application.  Back in the office at 1100 after filing the papers in court, I was busily preparing for the emergency permission hearing at 3pm, to decide whether the case should proceed to the next stage.  At the last minute things changed as the Defendant backed down, so we did not need to proceed with the hearing. There was still a lot of work that needed to be done including making sure that all parties had hard copies of the documents.

At 2pm my tummy was rumbling so I had  lunch at my desk.

I worry that we might not get paid for the work we did.  Although there was clearly merit to the claim – which is why the Defendant backed down – because of the stage that the case ended, we would have had to follow Regulations that meant that we have to request that the Legal Aid Agency exercise discretion to pay us for the work we did before the Defendant conceded. These Regulations were recently challenged in Court, again using the Judicial Review process; and thankfully we were paid for our work in this case.

This week I have also been responsible for dealing with written enquiries from potential clients.  This is an extra job which I have to fit in somewhere between all the casework, and inevitably means that I stay late.  Today I stayed in until 8pm to ensure that I responded to all the queries in good time.

Currently, I earn £20,000 a year. I love my job, but it would be nice to not have to worry about how much I spend when I buy my groceries.

I am passionate about a career in public law but the changes to legal aid have made it increasingly less viable as a career. I am applying for pupillages to become a barrister, and some of the positions I have applied to expect me to be able to survive in London on £12,000 for the year.  Although I told myself that I wouldn’t apply to these because I couldn’t afford it, such is my determination to practise public law that I gave in and decided that if I end up getting offered a pupillage with these chambers, I would just have to try to make it work.
I am concerned about all the cuts to legal aid because it is returning us to the dark ages when access to justice was determined by how wealthy you were.