I am a newly qualified solicitor working in actions against the police and asylum. I usually wake up at 6:00 a.m. and cycle to the gym for some pre work stress busting. The journey takes 45 minutes and is useful to think about my day, compose letters and emails in my head and think about my cases. If things are busy or there is non paid campaign work to do I will try and get to work at 7.30 / 8 but I try to make sure this is only once or twice a week at most. If I have made the gym I get to work around 9.00 a.m. I plan my weeks and days in advance so I don’t avoid the more terrifying huge tasks. The days vary so much. I can either be on the phone all day to clients and the opposition, researching cases, spending hours arguing with the Legal Aid Agency or drafting statements and submissions. There are shorter tasks and quick letters. I might see a client or have to go to court. There is usually some sort of crisis or emergency such as a client being detained or deported, an unexpected decision to appeal or challenge. As with most young legal aid lawyers there is the burden of law school fees (often paid if you get a job at a corporate firm) and then the years spent working for free or on little wage whilst doing work experience and paralegal jobs for 2 – 3 years. My trainee wage was decent for legal aid at that time and just enough to survive in London. Whilst my peers at Law School were earning £40k I was on £20k. I supplemented this and debt payments working as a private tutor which paid well, washing up and selling anything my family and friends were throwing away on ebay. After six years at my firm I earn what I consider a good wage, but about 1/3 of lawyers who don’t work in legal aid. But, if you calculate the number of hours I work against my salary, it often works out to less than minimum wage. I do not expect it to increase in the next five years. I don’t have a pension, I don’t have health insurance or any other work related benefits. We do not get anything like commissions or bonuses! My hours can be long and the work stressful. I was prepared for this but it is frustrating to be told we earn too much when the reality is very different.
If I lose my job I can find another one. I probably will not love it but it may be less stressful, better paid and so on. But what about my clients, where will they go? How can my clients most of whom have PTSD, depression, personality disorders and schizophrenia challenge the might of the state on their own? How can they hold the police or Home Office or Ministry of Justice to account, understand the law, challenge the government’s lawyers and understand when they are being lied to by the opposition, who are trying to call their bluff, scare them and make them give in? Democracy will be undermined by these cuts.