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First batch of ‘incredibly lucky’ sponsored legal aid trainees become solicitors

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Three-quarters stay on

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The first Justice First Fellows (JFFs) — a group of aspiring legal aid lawyers whose training contracts are sponsored by a legal education charity — have now qualified.

Eight of the nine aspiring social welfare lawyers who joined the scheme back in 2014 are now fully-fledged solicitors. The ninth is due to qualify in the summer because she is working on her TC part-time.

The Legal Education Foundation (TLEF) launched the JFF programme in 2013. It aims to combat recent public funding cuts and sponsor Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduates throughout their training. It funds “the salary, supervision and associated costs of trainees at selected social welfare organisations.”

The team has trained up at a number of social welfare organisations throughout the country. These are mainly law centres and charities: the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, the Govan Law Centre, Coventry Law Centre, Speakeasy Advice Centre, Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent Citizens Advice Bureaux, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, and the Public Law Project. The final fellow trained up civil rights law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn.

Of these eight, six (75%) have been retained by their host organisations, a figure the charity is “delighted about”. One has moved on and is now an employment lawyer at a private practice. The other has decided to pursue a career in social policy rather than doing case work.

Given the current state of the legal aid budget, forging a career in social welfare law is no mean feat, and the JFFs know this. Katy Watts, who trained at the Public Law Project, said she feels “incredibly lucky” to have taken part in the “innovative scheme”. She added:

It has provided opportunities beyond those of the average training contract. Workshops in fundraising, social media and project planning have helped me develop the skills necessary for a social welfare lawyer in an increasingly difficult environment. I’ve also made lasting friendships with other fellows, and look forward to building on that network for future projects.

Since its inception, the charity-run scheme has gone from strength to strength.

A number of new organisations have got on board with the charity — which was born out of the sale of the then College of Law in 2012 — including the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit and the Central England Law Centre. Thanks to a number of new funders, like City law firm Hogan Lovells, TLEF is able to sponsor more JFFs. Legal Cheek revealed last summer that the charity hopes to take the total number of fellows to 50 by this year.

As well as new funders, the charity announced last year it had created a special two-year long fellowship for aspiring social welfare barristers. The two successful candidates will split their time between the bar Pro Bono Unit and one of two chambers (Pump Court Chambers or St John’s Chambers). They are expected to qualify in late 2018/early 2019.

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