I have witnessed several happy endings

 

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I am a paralegal working in court of protection, health and welfare litigation. I earn £19,000.

In this area of law, you are working for those who are assessed as lacking mental capacity in respect of a particular decision, this can be in relation to their care or where they live. Often they are deprived of their liberty, meaning they are under constant supervision and control and cannot leave their place of residence by themselves.

I have visited an elderly lady with dementia, who had escaped from her care home twice and an autistic gentleman with learning difficulties, who likes to wear women’s clothes and wanted to leave his residential placement to live in a hostel or a flat with lots of girls. I have visited a 31 year old who was in a car accident, aged 16, then 3 years later diagnosed with primary progressive MS, he was living miles away from his family and young daughter. In the office I spend the majority of my time drafting court documents or completing legal aid applications and forms.

Since working here I have witnessed several happy endings, recently a 70 year old traveller was assessed as having capacity and was released from hospital, where he had been deprived of his liberty for three months. A court order was put in place to restrict contact, but allow it to continue for an elderly lady with dementia who was being emotionally and verbally abused by her son, since the order was put in place the son has abided by the contact regime and the lady is doing well.

Since I started working as a paralegal in this team there have been cuts to the rates that barristers can receive and the rates that we can pay experts instructed in these matters. This has dissuaded those experts and barristers for continuing to do work in this area.

In my opinion the cuts to their fees, prey on those with a  conscience, those who are willing to do the work for the person at the centre of the case, knowing that it may not be a financially sensible decision. Those who are in a position where they have to consider finances carefully or no longer wish to work for such a small amount in comparison to the volume of work, will no longer assist in these matters.

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We are all poorer for the cuts

I am a 30 year-old Trainee Solicitor working in housing law. My salary is £18,590 pa.

My clients are mostly social housing tenants facing eviction, or are already homeless and seeking accommodation from the Council, or have problems of disrepair in their homes.

I don’t have a typical day as such. I always start before 9am and try to finish at 5.30pm, but normally this ends up being 6-6.30pm. Whether I have a lunch break depends on whether I have urgent work to do, such as threaten a local authority with judicial review for not helping a client who is on the streets. Because I run my own caseload I like to take ownership over the work and I will do whatever is needed to get the job done for the clients. It’s a real cliché but I don’t do the work for the money – I do it for the same reason I went into law, to help people who are, for one reason or another, unable to enforce their rights.

I am fortunate enough to have family who have paid for my LPC, and a partner who earns more than me (though still not a lot compared to our peers). Without both of those I can’t see how I could have afforded to go into law.

The gap between the perception of legal aid lawyers’ wages and the reality is astounding. Even one of our clients assumed our solicitors earn six figures. I have worked in housing law since 2006 and had to take a pay cut of £10k from my previous role in a charity in order to train. £18,590 might not sound too bad, but when you live in the most expensive city in the world and your friends earn twice what you do, it does get to you – it’s all relative. My wage on qualification will not be much better.

The reality is that the cuts to legal aid have compoundnoun_237310_cc
ed the huge problems of social immobility where people from more disadvantaged backgrounds are shut out from pursuing a legal career, and for that we are all poorer.

 

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.

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.

If I lose my job, I can find another one. But where will my clients go?

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.

noun_89997_ccIf 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.

The cuts are bound to cause a surge in homelessness

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I am a solicitor working in housing law. I have been practising for over 10 years. I earn £26,000 per year.

My role includes taking new client calls (I often now, have to say we can’t help) seeing clients in this or one of our other offices in nearby town/city. Often they haven’t managed to get all the proofs needed by the Legal Aid Agency when I see them, so I can’t open a file until they do.

I can often help with rent & other possession claims. I also deal with housing disrepair counterclaims and unlawful evictions/landlord harassment. Homelessness queries are another area, as is anti social behaviour. At best I can stop the action (repossession/unlawful eviction/ASB injunction) and claim compensation (eg for disrepair) or get a homeless person accommodated.

I do not have any outstanding debt for studies, but I have a mortgage. It is a nag at the back of my mind, as I have given in my notice, because I feel so much under unrealistic pressures at work. I can manage without a job for several months if I cannot find anything quickly

The people most affected by the legal aid cuts- our clients – are so vulnerable and so much under attack that I feel fearful for them. The cuts are bound to cause a  surge in homelessness.

I am a housing solicitor with over 5 years experience earning £27,000 a year to help the homeless

noun_41325Office hours are 9.30am-5.30pm but I’m generally in the office from 8.30 through to 7 on a normal day – or much later if a new urgent case has come in or a client needs emergency help. This can happen for instance, where a new homeless client with children has been turned away from a local authority homeless department for some spurious reason and is facing street homelessness that night. Luckily once I’ve sent threatened legal action the local authority will usually back down and agree to provide emergency housing to the family, but I often wonder what happens to those families who aren’t lucky enough to find a legal aid solicitor who can do this work them on the same day.  If the authority doesn’t see sense, or is just very bad at responding to correspondence (it happens) then with the help of a barrister we’ll make an application to the out-of-hours judge at the High Court. This can involve staying in the office until after 10pm sometimes to make sure that the council provides emergency housing after the injunction has been made.

Generally my day involves meeting with clients, writing to the other side to progress a case, instructing barristers and sending them papers to represent clients at hearings, drafting statements to support client cases and so on. The type of work is to do with housing conditions, preventing people from being evicted, enforcing their social welfare rights and trying to make sure clients have a safe, suitable home to live in. Aside from client work I also have to deal with lots of Legal Aid Agency correspondence usually asking for more information from clients who although are on Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance are now expected to explain credits as little as £10 going in and out of their bank account.

There is then all the billing work to do to make sure that I actually get paid for the casework. This can involve appealing against Legal Aid Agency decisions to reduce or not pay me at all for a case; or negotiating with the other side who had been ordered to pay my client’s legal costs. This is just as important as the client work of course, because unless I do this the firm will go out of business and there will be nobody around to provide that legal advice and assistance to clients.

I am quite lucky in that I was part of the last year that didn’t have to pay any tuition fees for university, so I don’t have a massive amount of debt to pay off. I can definitely survive on my salary even though I live in the most expensive city in the world! It would be nice to do a bit more than just “survive” particularly when I compare myself to what other lawyers with my experience are earning…

On-going cuts to legal aid will ultimately mean that there will be fewer and less well-qualified lawyers around to provide the crucial advice and assistance to really vulnerable people. This will lead to knock-on costs for society, including on the health service and the courts, but it is a warning which the general public (and certainly the politicians) do not seem ready to listen to.