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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Created by Silly Lili from the Noun Project

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.

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.

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 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.

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