‘I’ve often gone hungry and can’t afford a wig, gown or practitioner textbooks,’ admits pupil barrister

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By Alex Aldridge on

Baby barrister at civil legal aid set tells of bleak pupillage existence.


Amid all the news about cuts to criminal legal aid, it’s easy to forget that times are also very hard for practitioners in publicly-funded areas of civil law — particularly at the junior end of the profession.

But a post published yesterday on the Young Legal Aid Lawyers’ (YLAL) Gravy Train blog has offered a reminder of how tight money is for junior lawyers working in civil legal aid.

Writing anonymously, a 29 year-old pupil gives an account of life at a set specialising in immigration and asylum, crime, housing and family law. The pupil, who says that they earn £14,000 a year without specifying where they are based, states:

“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.”

Changes to civil legal aid that came into effect last year mean that many types of cases are no longer eligible for public funds, with divorce, child contact, welfare benefits, employment, clinical negligence and housing law now qualifying for legal aid only in very limited circumstances.

Keep an eye on the Gravy Train for other tales that dispel the myth of the legal aid fat cat.