I am a criminal legal aid lawyer applying for prosecution roles where my salary will double

icon_4259I am a newly qualified solicitor practising in criminal defence and prison law. My salary is £19,000.

Depending on what is in the diary I may be leaving my house at any time from 6am onwards for prison visits, disciplinary hearings or Parole Board hearings. These visits are very regular and take up significant time due to extensive travelling. If I am office based for the day, I usually arrive at 8:30am to take advantage of the quiet time before the phone starts ringing.

It is really difficult to describe a ‘typical day’ as matters and client issues come up often. During the day I may be called to cover a police station attendance, an urgent remand court hearing or cover for colleagues who have been called away themselves. It is not unusual to have to cover appointments or see clients when they attend the office outside of a pre-arranged appointment or cover client meetings when the assigned solicitor is otherwise engaged. This typically means having to get ‘on top of the papers’ in a very quick space of time to be able to take instructions and provide solid advice. On a quiet day, which has run according to my diary, I am able to leave the office between 5pm – 5:30pm. The out of hours call rota for the police stations, late night client meetings or at home preparation for the following day usually keeps me working into the evening from the relative comfort of my dining table.

I currently earn £19,000 which was increased from my training salary of £17,000. With this, I have to run a house and a car which is vital for my work. I am compensated on a low level for mileage but this is paid in arrears and out of office hours travelling time (e.g. setting off at 7:30am for a 9am start) is unpaid and flexi-working is not possible. I have credit card debt which is slowly being chipped away at but it is difficult to make ends meet with the rising costs of living. It is not unusual to have a fridge that only has milk and cheese in and because I am tired, I often don’t shop for groceries. The risks of buying a big grocery shop and being unable to afford to fuel my car is a very real worry.

I love my job, I love the clients, and despite the problems, I (generally) like how busy I am. The pay however is difficult to stomach and I am currently applying for prosecution roles where my salary will effectively double. It is not all about the money, but I sometimes feel that I would qualify for legal aid myself.

Without sounding selfish, the pay for legal aid lawyers is forcing us out of the profession and is unsustainable. If that continues to happen then our clients will suffer. I do not know of any legal aid lawyer who entered legal aid practice for the riches, but struggling to make ends meet leaves a sour taste in the mouth. We all want to help our clients and I am deeply saddened by having to leave criminal defence legal aid work, but it is now becoming a financial decision.

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I work more than 12 hour days, and get £12,000 a year to work in criminal defence.

I am a 24 year old trainee solicitor working in crime. I get paid £12,000 and work over 12 hours days.

I arrive noun_33418_ccat work at 8am. Phone calls from clients start now and end about 10pm

At 9:30 I have a prison visit. I normally sit around for 1 hour whilst my clientis found.

At 11am I check my mail, usually legal aid forms or certificates around 5 per day. I have to telephone clients who have filled in forms incorrectly (a high proportion of illiterate /vulnerable / elderly clients who don’t understand what the forms are actually asking and a lot of time is spent explaining the client situation to the court).

I typically do some legal research,admin and billing throughout the day. Admin usually means lots of time on hold to, or chasing, the  Legal Aid Agency, the police or the local council.

If I have to go to court, I will finish there at 4:30. When the court lists come out, I have to  check that we are still covered. Inevitably, I find that things have been pulled or moved up at the eleventh hour.

At 5pm I have client and barrister meetings so that my clients don’t have to take time off work.

I leave the office anywhere between 6pm and 9pm. I am on call for 12 hour shifts between 9pm and 9am about four times a month.

I’m 24, living with my parents, earning £12,000. I have a car loan to pay off and have to have a car for my job. I have an LPC loan to pay off which is crippling. I can’t afford day to day living as once I’ve paid the loans and helped out with household expenses there’s £200 left.

I am worried about the cuts, not for my  own struggle, that is essentially a choice, but I wonder how many people they expect to help clients on a pro bono basis? Access to justice is being totally denied.

There is no incentive to working in legal aid anymore

I am a thirty year old paralegal working in criminal legal aid. I earn £17,000.

My typical day at work involves running my own caseload. I have around 40 clients who are facing criminal proceedings, varying from theft to murder. I manage cases from start to finish. My job is to take the client’s account, take any defence witness statements, chase the Crown Prosecution Service for outstanding evidence, which then has to be reviewed, and I also arrange for expert reports to be undertaken, which can be an extremely lengthy process.noun_89997_cc

Some clients can suffer with mental health problems, can be addicted to alcohol or drugs, can be volatile or emotionally distressed. Sometimes I may be sworn or shouted at, however, it is vital that these clients are treated with dignity and respect. I often refer these clients on to local support services if necessary. It is extremely important to me that, although my job is to take the client’s instructions, they get the chance to tell me about their issues, although equally important to keep a sometimes difficult client on track. There can be a fine art to this.

I also attend Magistrates and Crown Court hearings, along with any conferences that a client may have with his or her barrister. I visits clients in prison, who now can be very distressed as the prison service is also suffering severe cut backs and prisoners are held in their cells for most of the day.

By the time I qualify, I will have spent 6 years studying towards my degree, and a further two years studying part time towards my Legal Practice Course. A training contract will take two years part time, but I hope to be able to have some time knocked off for experience in criminal law, and I also hope to be able to complete this at the same time as my LPC. This would all have cost me £20,000. The average salary of a newly qualified criminal solicitor in my local area is around £25,000. When I worked as a legal secretary on the outskirts of London (with no legal qualifications), I earned £32,000. Where is the incentive? The simple answer is – there isn’t one.

Due to the cut backs and uncertainty in legal aid, firms have become stagnant, there are no funds to take on extra members of staff, there have been no pay rises in over 5 years and no bonuses or incentives to work towards.

Most students will opt for the higher paying career route, not legal aid. The legal aid sector is sure to dwindle, and those who, like me, want to practice in the legal aid sector to help the vulnerable, will be few and far between. We must protect those who cannot afford to pay for legal services.

I would not want my solicitor to say they did not have time for my family

I’m a trainee solicitor specialising in the defence of fraud, white-collar crime and regulatory matters. It is somewhat a fancy title, but I feel the salary certainly does not reflect that (I earn £16,000). Rather despondently, I have to admit that I earned more as a receptionist during my University vacations than I do now, and that was without the qualifications, and the inevitable debts of obtaining a degree and the subsequent Legal Practice Course (LPC).

My day typically begins at 6:30am when I get up to get ready for work. I’m out of the house by 7:30am to make the hour and a half London commute to the office. At the office, I begin following up emails and messages I’ve received over night from clients or counsel. This job is most certainly not a nine to five.

It is then a matter of either hours of considering and analysing prosecution papers, court or prison visits or back-to-back conferences with whoever requires my attention that day. This will usually be counsel, experts, clients or perhaps more often than not their family members. Many people fail to acknowledge that it is not just my client who goes through the legal proceedings but also their friends and relatives. The legal aid agency does not pay for my time to meet with family members (unless they are a potential defence witness) so much of this I do pro bono (“for free”). Why do I do this? If the roles were ever to be reversed I would not want my solicitor to say they did not have time for my family or friends, so I do for them what I would want done for me.

In fact, a lot of what I do is pro bono; before funding is in place or once a case has been closed I still do what I can to help a client. Often, I am all they have to help them through the most trying and daunting time of their life and to turn them away because I do not get paid for it would be unjust.

If I am not in the office I may have to see my client in a prison or a Court hundreds miles from the office. This would take me out of the office all day and be costly in travel. Fortunately, my firm does reimburse me personally for my travel fees but this often leaves them out of pocket. This is because there is a limit on what can be claimed from the legal aid agency.

After a long day at the office, court, prison or wherever I may be, I am lucky if I am home before 8pm. Twice a week I also study my LPC course in the evenings, so on these nights it is more like 10pm. Once home, and when I say home, I mean my parents home. I eat dinner and prepare whatever I need for the following day and sleep.

I am thankful to my parents who tolerate me still living at home. I returned from University with the promise to myself, and them, that “I’ll only be at home for a year”. Three years later and I’m still living with my parents. I had every intention of moving out, but the reality of limited earnings, the high cost of London rent, my LPC and student loan repayments, I had no choice but to reconsider.

When I qualify I am hoping to be on a salary which allows me to live independently… I can only think this is what the myth means when they describe all lawyers as “fat cats lining their pockets”.

Further cuts will mean experienced practitioners will not venture into legal aid

cropped-cropped-save-legal-aid-banner51.jpgI am a newly qualified solicitor practising in housing law.

A typical day is never how I typically think it would play out. In the perfect “typical day” I would come into work at 0930 and leave at 1730. Write some brilliant submissions for a clients case and have some lunch.

However a typical day, as it more often than not plays out, is, as soon as I walk into the office, the reception area is full of clients for our early morning walk in surgery for housing / benefits. Myself and 4 colleagues  go through each client advising them and booking appointments for some we can help under legal aid for more complex matters and wrap up about 11:30.

We then have to deal with, at least once a week now, an emergency case where we have to prepare for Judicial Review or last minute Possession hearing while we juggle our large case loads, meaning lunch is 10 minutes at about 1600 and we don’t leave till at least 1830.

Student loans, credit cards and other obligations, totalling in the thousands with their commitment to only reduce by a little every month makes it a difficult scrape at times, when working primarily in publicly funded areas of law.

Legal Aid cuts have already left their mark by removing advice for debt and benefits out of scope. While I (and my team) conduct pro-bono work offline and work online at further cuts will mean experienced practitioners will not venture into Legal Aid as we would be only be able to help a small percentage of people and have limited remuneration to keep us going.

The number of people calling for legal advice is increasing, but the number that qualify for legal aid is decreasing.

noun_33370_ccI’m a paralegal working in immigration and public law.  My days starts at 8am (in the office, computer on and emails pinging).

The phone rings. I recognise the number. I have a client that rings about 5 times a day. I know many colleagues who have similar clients. He’s very unwell. He’s detained under immigration powers and desperately wants to go home. He paid previous private  solicitors who took the money he borrowed from several friends and disappeared. He’s having difficulty trusting us.

I finish the call. I look at my to do list. Sometimes ‘leave office on time ‘ is on my to do list. It isn’t today because I’ve got too much to do. I need to write representations on an asylum claim to the Home Office. My client is gay and he can not return to his country of origin because homosexuality is a crime there, punishable by the death penalty. Also on my task list for the day is to request a bail address from the Home Office, so my client in detention can apply for bail. I also have to chase the Legal Aid Agency on funding applications so that we can actually be paid for the work that we do!

My day has not finished but the space available has! I leave the office at about 6.30pm. When I get home, I start working again for an hour or so.

I have not even started paying off my student loan because I don’t earn enough. I also have debt towards my Legal Practice Course fees. Living costs in London are high; it costs me over £200 per month just to travel to London. I earn £17,000, but for the number of hours that I do, it works out as less than minimum wage. I earnt more working in retail.

Everyday the  number of people calling and needing legal advice is increasing and yet the number of people qualifying  for legal aid is decreasing. However, the Home Office always has money for their legal advice.

I work 12-15 hours per day to battle for my clients’ liberty – for £20,000 pa

noun_33418_ccI am a 24 year old Pupil (trainee) barrister earning approximately £20,000 to practise criminal law.

I represent people from all walks of life who find themselves charged with a crime appearing in the Magistrates’ Court. A majority of the people I represent have suffered significant hardship; most have mental health problems and many have battled with drug addiction, homelessness, and other issues.

I am in court every day, and no two days are the same. Typically, I spend significant time with the client, advising them on trial prospects, or likely sentence, or chances of bail. Often the Crown Prosecution Service will not have done what they should to prepare the case as they are short on resources. Sometimes I am faced with cynical judges or magistrates and have to persuade them to take the right decision. I am frequently battling for my client’s liberty.

I always arrive at court by 9am. The length of time I spend at court depends on all manner of factors, but if I am done before lunch I will usually be sent to another court in the afternoon. When I get back to the office I need to do the follow up work from the hearing. At about 5.30pm I will be sent my papers for the following day. This may require many hours of preparation. On average I work 12-13 hours a day, though at least once a week that will be more like 15. I work at least one day of the weekend (courts are open on a Saturday!), and sometimes both Saturday and Sunday.

Payments for Magistrates’ Court work is extremely low: about £40-£60 per hearing or slightly more for a full trial. Out of this I pay for my own travel and income tax. Including all the time spent on preparation, this usually works out at far less than minimum wage. It is almost impossible to survive in London on these rates. I am lucky that at the moment I am paid a pupillage grant, but once this stops in a few months I will struggle financially. I have £20,000 of student debt to repay. At the moment I don’t earn enough to make repayments, but soon I will have to deduct loan repayments from the little I earn.

The work I do is ensuring the most vulnerable people get proper representation when charged with a crime. The cuts to legal aid mean that I will not be able to continue to do this job and afford to feed myself. As a result of the cuts, more and more people will go unrepresented and will be denied justice due to these cuts.