I am a paralegal at a legal aid firm of solicitors, earning £21,000 pa.
My firm represents people detained in immigration detention centres and those serving time in prison. We assist clients to challenge their ongoing or past periods of unlawful detention. We also assist prisoners to progress through their sentence, helping them with parole reviews and sentencing planning issues so that they can reintegrate into the community on release. As well as helping with all the legal aspects of the case, we also need to ensure that clients have suitable accommodation and receive support for their needs. The remit of prison law has recently been dramatically reduced by the cuts to legal aid, but it is important to ensure that access to justice does not stop at the prison gates through quality legal service.
There’s quite often no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in our department! We help very vulnerable people to be released from immigration detention, including those suffering from psychotic mental illnesses and pregnant women. This can mean that one minute you are in the office preparing a bundle of papers for court, and the next you are helping a client find his way to sheltered accommodation.
I started out my career in legal aid working for minimum wage. At the same time as working, I was studying and struggling to support myself financially through the Legal Practice Course (which you have to take to become a solicitor). Although my financial situation is not as bad now, you still feel like you make a significant personal and financial sacrifice to work in this sector.
In my opinion, the legal aid cuts will mean that vulnerable people will not be able to seek redress for past and present wrongdoings by the state. To me, this goes against the principle that “when the poor cannot afford good lawyers, good lawyers must afford the poor”.