I am a 26 year old Paralegal. I work for a public law team earning £14,060 pa. Public law involves any claim against a public body, such as a local authority or the prison service (these cases are known as “judicial review”).
A typical work day for me can include visiting clients in order to take instructions and provide advice. I often have to travel out to visit the client if they are in custody or are unable to travel to the office due to mental and/or physical disabilities and other complex needs. I need to communicate complex areas of law to often very vulnerable and distressed clients, which requires a great deal of understanding and means spending additional time with them.
I might then conduct research in diverse areas of law – from Parole Board criteria for the release of life sentence prisoners to a local authority’s policies in relation to Special Guardianship payments. It takes experience and analysis to apply this research to the facts of a client’s case.
I’ll typically spend some time drafting and sending formal letters to the defendant, completing legal aid funding applications, preparing bundles of papers to issue (start) a case in court, and/or drafting instructions to barristers.
The kind of firm I work for, practicing public law, does not generally pay for the large fees law students have to pay to take professional law courses. This is in contrast to many corporate firms which can afford to sponsor prospective trainees. As a result, I am in approximately £28,000 of debt consisting of an £8,000 private bank loan and £20,000 of student debt. Given my low salary I am not currently in a position to make student loan repayments but I do make bank loan repayments of £139 a month and will do so for the next 8 years. As a result of this I am unable, at the age of 26, to move out of my parents’ home. I simply cannot afford to live independently whilst also maintaining ownership of my car which is a requirement for my role.
The government’s cuts to legal aid will be so damaging because they will leave already vulnerable clients who have already been disproportionately affected by other cuts, and who often have very difficult life circumstances, without good quality legal recourse for legitimate grievances.