I am a 28 year old Trainee solicitor. I work in criminal law and I earn £17,500 pa.
My day starts at 8.45 with a team meeting to discuss our clients; whose in custody in the police station awaiting interview, or a charging decision? Which police station? Which clients are in custody having been remanded to Court? What is in the diary for later? We are allocated prison visits, site visits, voluntary interviews in advance. Sometimes this means dashing out of the meeting clutching papers and scrambling to drive an hour away.
If I am to stay in the office, I will see clients on an hourly basis. Sometimes appointments take the full hour. Most take at least 45 minutes and require a review of the client’s file prior to attendance so I can advise them. In between this I attend drop-in queries from prospective new clients, and draft statements before the next client arrives. If I am at the police station I regularly miss meals as it can get pretty hectic.
I advise on anything from shoplifting to terrorism, fraud to murder. I represent everyone: foreign nationals, children, vulnerable adults with serious mental illnesses and first time arrestees. I must be able to switch from one case to the next in a matter of seconds. If I am not in the Police Station I am conducting prison visits, working in the Crown Court supporting Counsel (if I can be spared), or attending client file conferences. I rarely finish before 6pm and sometimes attend on clients until 5am. Even then I still have to be in for the team meeting at 8.45!
I get financial help from my family so I can afford to pay my rent and run my car. I would not be able to cope without this, as work expenses are paid retrospectively. Payments to me for meetings out of hours on client files are not received until the client file is billed and the firm gets the money from the Legal Aid Agency. This means I am constantly out of pocket and regularly skip meals.
I worry that cuts to legal aid will mean that ambitious, intelligent individuals who genuinely care about others will choose alternative careers because their skills are not valued in the low budget criminal justice system the Government is forcing on my clients. My clients desperately need these skilled, caring people.