I am a 33 year old Solicitor, with over 5 years’ experience practicing immigration and public law.
I represent vulnerable migrants with applications for permission to stay in the UK and I prepare appeals and High Court challenges against unlawful decisions to refuse those applications by the Home Office. Many of my clients are asylum seekers and victims of trafficking who have been brought to the UK to work in slave-like conditions doing domestic work or prostitution. Most are still coping with the impact of this severe sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
I start work at 10 am but usually finish around 8 pm. During the day I see clients, often for several hours at a time if I am taking statements with an interpreter. Later when the phones stop ringing I prepare representations on behalf of clients to the Home Office and appeal bundles for court.
Unfortunately many of my clients face bad decision making by the Home Office, especially when it comes to the Government’s interpretation of the right to enjoy a private or family life. Thankfully, there is still legal aid to help challenge unlawful refusals in the High Court if necessary. However, I don’t know how we can afford to keep doing this work now the Government has said the funding for all these cases will be “at risk” from the start (e.g. firms might not get paid for some of the work they do if they don’t win permission to proceed at the High Court).
I am very lucky because I have only about £6,000 debt at the moment. My salary is £31,000 pa, which I think is quite good and a lot better than many other junior lawyers I know. However, it doesn’t compare to the salaries of the Government lawyers I am up against (currently £47,557 for 3 years+ qualification). I also have to work very hard, including at least one day every weekend.
I am seriously concerned about the on-going cuts to legal aid. Getting good results for clients involves investing time in a case, for example, to prepare detailed statements. But it is difficult for the business to stay afloat when you spend a lot of time on cases that are paid at very low legal aid fixed fees. I often do work we don’t get paid for, and the barristers that represent my clients go above and beyond in their preparation. This can’t last with the cuts we have already had, plus the new residence test and the cuts to payment for judicial review which are going to be introduced by the Government shortly. We have already had people crying in our reception as they cannot afford to pay for advice after the cuts that took place in April 2013. These new cuts are a death knell for access to justice for people fighting unlawful decisions by the State.