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.

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If these cuts continue, vulnerable witnesses will be left in the hands of the inexperienced.

noun_55084_cc I am a pupil barrister earning approximately £12,000. There is no typical day in pupillage. I’ve spent roughly two months each following barristers to court in Crime, Family and Civil before I take on my own cases. If someone needs research doing or documents drafting at the last minute on any given area of law, I’m eager to do it – whether it takes 10 minutes or 10 hours, it can really make a difference to somebody’s liberty and life, which is why I came into law in the first place.

I’m generally in Chambers for about 8.30, at the earliest I’ll leave at 5, but often I’ll stay much later – and I don’t even have my own cases yet! The amount I learn from the more experienced members of chambers is incredible, and I’m worried that if they go (because they can’t afford to stay), there will be no-one to do the really heavy weight cases – the murder trials, the care cases involving serious sexual abuse of children or the employment cases of serious racial discrimination.

Vulnerable witnesses need to be questioned with sensitivity and respect, and both of those come with experience, which I don’t have right now. If these cuts continue, those expert lawyers will leave, and those vulnerable witnesses will be left in the hands of the inexperienced, the under-trained and the petrified. That’s not justice, not for anyone.

I’ve always wanted to be a criminal advocate, but I’m having to seriously reconsider, I  couldn’t survive on a solely criminal practice and I’ll definitely be taking on any and all cases that solicitors brief me on. I’m struggling to survive on my pupillage award – I need a new pair of shoes as mine have holes in – so they’re on my birthday list, and I have long since given up feeling guilty when my parents give me a tenner when I go home as it means I can eat meat the next week! I couldn’t afford to do pupillage if I had taken out a professional loan to do the BPTC – I’m worried that the best candidates won’t come to the Criminal Bar because they simply cannot afford to do so.

I am a pupil barrister who can’t afford to buy any practitioner textbooks

icon_32025I am a 29 year old pupil barrister awarded £14,000 to train in immigration and asylum, employment, housing, and family law.

There is no typical day at work in my job, but generally I will be following someone to court or doing paperwork which includes research and drafting advice, statements of case, grounds of appeal, grounds of judicial review, and skeleton arguments. In the second half of my pupillage I will have my own cases. So, with the support of my supervisor, I will be representing people in court or in tribunals. Our supervisors are not paid any extra to train us.

Nearly all of the clients my chambers serves are on a low income and many are facing a huge range of difficulties. Among many cases, I have helped a 16 year old boy with a tough family background charged with drug dealing offences. He got a second chance through a stringent community order rather than detention, thanks to great work from probation and a sympathetic judge as well as good advocacy (it’s great when the team works to try to help kids!). I also assisted a factory worker who suffered years of vicious bullying. In that case the judge heavily criticised the firm for allowing a culture of “gay banter” in the workplace. I also assisted an Afghan asylum seeker who would have been seriously hurt or killed if sent back to Afghanistan. The judge agreed, and he now has asylum.

Not one of these people would have received the protection due to them under the law and under a basic sense of humanity without the help of their legal advisors and representatives. These are cases where the stakes are incredibly high – they literally have life-ruining consequences if things go wrong. This is what legal aid solicitors and barristers work to prevent.

It’s not possible to survive on my pupillage award alone. I’ve often gone hungry and am unable to buy anything but the most basic necessities or cope with any emergency spending requirements (e.g. my bike got stolen, and I have never been able to replace it). I still haven’t been able to afford any practitioners texts, my wig and gown, or to start paying back my student loan.

I believe the cuts to legal aid will fundamentally undermine access to justice and the rule of law. They strike at the very heart of what is good in our society – the protection afforded to the rights of the most vulnerable.

Book designed by Alex Auda Samora from the Noun Project

I earn £14kpa as a Paralegal representing people with mental health problems

icon_2230I am a 24 year old paralegal. I am responsible for assisting clients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (also known as clients who have been “sectioned”) and assist them in applying for their discharge from hospital. I represent them at Tribunal hearings and other various types of hearings/meetings.

My clients are typically some of the most vulnerable members of society and they will often see me as being able to give them extra support, as a social worker would. They ask me for assistance with a variety of things which I simply cannot assist with due to limits of legal aid funding.

My day usually starts at around 8.30 but no later than 9.00. A typical day will involve managing a number of cases. I often spend time out of the office taking instructions from the client as well as reading reports, liaising with various professionals and representing clients at hearings. I usually finish my day at about 6.00pm.

My poor salary of £14,000 pa was described to me as “competitive” when it is effectively just minimum wage. I am baffled by my poor salary given the work that I do. I live in one of the UK’s most expensive towns and pay for my own rent and bills. My parents cannot afford to support me so I live from pay packet to pay packet, often worrying about money. I have a £2,000 overdraft from university that I have been unable to repay due to having no disposable income after having paid living expenses.

Furthermore, I had to take out a £10,000 loan to cover the cost of the Legal Practice Course and the 5 year repayment plan is due to start this summer. This will cost me over £200 per month and will leave me with hardly any money to live on. Consequently I am scared as to how I am going to survive.

The cuts to legal aid worry me as they are putting a career in legal aid out of the reach of more and more talented individuals.

I am a 26 year old Paralegal who can’t afford to move out my parents’ home

icon_26189I 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.

House designed by Lil Squid from the Noun Project

 

I am a family law paralegal in debt by £30k

icon_18080I am a paralegal practicing public and private family law. I earn £15,000 pa.

My caseload is split quite evenly between legal aid and private family law cases. This means I assist parents where a local authority is involved in the care of their children. I also support clients who are in a dispute with a former partner regarding their children.

In a typical day, I will undertake at least one court hearing and see at least one new client. The nature of the work means that events can happen very quickly and clients often come to me in a very distressed and panicked state. Where a local authority has become involved, for example care proceedings are underway, the clients I see are at a real crisis point.

In providing prompt and definitive advice, as urgently as possible, clients often say that they feel more settled and in control. If I can help them to feel less frightened, I know I’ve done my job well.

Put simply, I’m in £30,000 worth of debt following completion of my bachelors degree, the Graduate Diploma in Law (to convert to law), and the Bar Vocational Course (to study to be a barrister). I had no independent means of funding during my studies and so I funded it all myself. In addition to my job as a paralegal, at the moment I also work a further part time job just to keep going.

I believe the cuts to legal aid will mean that vulnerable people will be exploited, taken advantage of, and won’t have access to any form of justice unless they have money to pay for a lawyer privately.

Credit Slave designed by Silly Lili from the Noun Project

I am a junior criminal barrister taking home £1,000 per month

icon_10320I am a new qualified criminal barrister. I take home approximately £1,000 each month.

My typical day at work involves getting up at dawn, finishing my preparation for trial and travelling to a Court (which is usually an hour or two from my house). When I get to Court, I often have to deal with lack of disclosure or other reasons why the case cannot go ahead.

The cuts are already affecting not only defence but prosecution too. There are simply not enough staff at the Criminal Prosecution Service, and so there are severe delays in documents being disclosed to the defence. The Court is often over-listed with cases  and several matters get adjourned due to lack of Court time. Cuts not only affect the standard of legal representation but also the efficiency of the legal system.

In the event a case goes ahead, having met my client and taken further instructions, I put their case before the court. Many of my clients are extremely vulnerable people who need support and my aim is always to achieve the best possible result for them, whether this is an acquittal or the best sentence available. After an often bruising day in Court I then go back to Chambers and work until late on my next case.

I am lucky because, due to a combination of family support and scholarships, I do not currently have any debt. My income each month is unpredictable, and is too little to enable me to save anything for my future. What is worse is that my earnings potential for the future is no better, which leaves me vulnerable in the event of illness and will make it much harder to start a family.

I think that many talented young lawyers will leave the legal aid profession if further cuts are introduced and this can only impact negatively on the vulnerable clients we represent.

Lawyer designed by Miroslav Kurdov from the Noun Project