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‘Don’t give up on a career in legal aid’ lawyers urge students, as government reveals firms doing publicly funded work has fallen by 20%

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33

Cautious optimism the tide will turn

The number of legal aid firms has fallen by 5% this year, but publicly funded practitioners are urging aspiring lawyers not to be deterred.

This shocking drop has been revealed thanks to a parliamentary question by Labour MP Gloria De Piero to Justice Secretary David Lidington about the number of legal aid providers in each region. In response, Justice Minister Sam Gyimah has said the number of legal aid providers has fallen from 2,991 to 2,393 in the past five years, a drop of 20%. In London, the fall is 13%.

These figures show the dramatic impact Tory legal aid cuts, i.e. the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), have had on the justice system.

This statute was given royal assent in May 2012 and removed public funding for most housing, welfare, employment and immigration law cases, while slashing family law legal aid too — no wonder lawyers hate it so much. The Law Society’s head of justice, Richard Miller, said: 

Behind these figures are hundreds of thousands of people who can no longer obtain legal aid for matters such as family break up, a range of housing problems, and challenges to welfare benefits assessments. This data also calls attention to the fact that increasingly it is no longer economically viable for solicitors to do this work.

Given this bleak outlook, law student eyes are turning to the security of other practice areas. While there are initiatives like the Justice First Fellowship encouraging young solicitors and barristers into social welfare law, others don’t think it’s worth it anymore. “I’d earn more money working in the pub”, criminal law partner Edward Preston told Legal Cheek.

But even in light of this grimness, the Secret Barrister has urged students not to turn their back on legal aid. The anonymous criminal law advocate and writer said:

I’d urge law students not to be deterred from publicly funded work. The current underfunding of legal aid is simply not sustainable, and I have a perhaps naive faith that something is going to give in the next few years. But either way, there will always be people who need access to good legal aid lawyers. And I would always advise that we fight for legal aid rather than flee.

The Secret Barrister’s tide-turning hopes may be well-placed.

The Law Society will be publishing its own LASPO “reckoning” in June, which we bet will be pretty scathing. A review by Lord Bach — who last year penned an article headlined ‘The lack of access to justice is a national disgrace’ — is expected in due course.

And it’s worth noting another key figure in legal aid policy, head of the Justice Committee Bob Neill MP, has previously said: “We have taken out as much as we can, we cannot take out anymore.” Watch this space.

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33 Comments

Not Amused

It is recklessly irresponsible to advise young people to sacrifice their lives and their financial futures in this way.

Unless you have substantial family wealth, you should not be going in to legal aid work. Being a martyr wears thin extremely quickly when you can’t pay your rent.

(52)(6)

Anonymous

Precisely. As much as I love the idea and understand the necessity of legal aid, I am not going to starve to serve the good. I am not rich enough to pursue the legal aid path.

(18)(1)

Anonymous

This. If you want to be a hero then do some pro bono work (not that any lawyer who wants sleep or a social life will have time for that).

(5)(0)

Wankington Bear

Did someone mention boning?

(1)(5)

Anonymous

Your mum said something about that last night. It must’ve been when she told me what I good job I did.

(1)(4)

Anonymous

That is not necessarily completely separate from legal aid.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I do Legal Aid crime,
Love the job but often can’t get the pay to last out the month. I don’t drink, smoke or have foreign holidays. I will never be able to afford to buy a house unless I change jobs.

If you want to live like a benefit
claimant but enjoy your day-job, then Legal Aid work may be for you.

It’s my life choice. I’ve taken it. I must take the downs as well as the ups.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

Fair play to you warrior

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Not being able to smoke is a down? “Yeh, one day I’ll make it and I’ll be rolling in Benson & Hedges, makin’ it rain outside the back door, ciggys there, ciggys everywhere- silver, gold I don’t care, just ciggys everywhere”

(7)(3)

SingaporeSwing

Very sadly, but spot on. It’s not a career or a job.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

It’s a vocation

Trumpenkrieg

But Not Amused, if experienced junior counsel like Secret Barrister and their clerks don’t maintain a steady inflow of naive students tanked up on ideas of equality, access to justice and the common good who are willing to shovel shit before Bog End Mags for Costa barista money, how else will they maintain a steady stream of instructions in bigger, meatier cases that keep them in opera tickets and foreign holidays? Think of the finely balanced food chain in existence here.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Barristers demonstrating outside courts look horribly undignified. The images undermine the trust and respect of the public in barristers and I suspect also damage the public’s view of the judiciary and the judicial process.

I do hope they never do this again, with or without Mulberry handbags.

(4)(16)

Anonymous

Which government department do you work for, then?

(7)(0)

Ex Legal Aid Lawyer

It was great being a criminal defence lawyer until I decided I couldn’t get close to affording even a modest lifestyle in London. Don’t bother unless you don’t mind earning absolute peanuts.

(5)(0)

Disillusioned of Counsel

Serious question from a criminal defence practitioner:

What do you do now, and how did you make the change?

I’m wanting to jump ship as there’s no way I’m going to make any progress in life doing Legal Aid crime, much as I enjoy it.

(5)(0)

Massingbird

Go in house, local authorities are a good stepping stone an always need litigators. You can go in as a contractor and should be able to earn 50k comfortable. You can pick up some wider commercial or other experience there to probably. Then move into the private sector from there.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Will the Secret Barrister pay my rent?

(3)(0)

Anonymous

“We’ve taken out as much as we can”?! Never mind conceding you can’t cut any further; resources need replacing. I’m working for rates that were fixed in, I think, 1998, a decade before I was called to the Bar. I accept that’s my choice – but it’s a choice that, in the context of real wage stagnation everywhere, fewer and fewer good lawyers are prepared to make. Are criminal litigation and advocacy worth investing in, or aren’t they? The government’s answer is pretty clear. Whilst ever they still appear to have bums on seats in counsel’s row, they won’t raise the rates – not in real terms, not in line with inflation, not at all. The contempt is mutual.

(7)(0)

Crim Law Trainee Solicitor

Shall I slit my wrists now or jump off Tower Bridge tomorrow, high tide??? Decisions, decisions?!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Don’t be doing anything around Tower Bridge. You must not disrupt my commute.

(5)(0)

Go to the city

Don’t do it kids. Having been a paralegal for an eternity I finally got a training contract in a legal aid firm and I’m paid £17,000. Living away from home in London on that wage is tough. When I qualify I’m going to have a serious rethink about my career.

(9)(0)

Another Ex Legal Aid Lawyer

Sadly, I think that the Secret Barrister’s suspicion that he may be naive is probably right. It isn’t coming back. Cast your mind over all the things that have been cut since 1980 that we used to take for granted and now accept are gone for good. Legal Aid will be the same as Tuition Fees, Universal Child Benefit and free milk. I was advised not to do it in 2004. I did it anyway and left the profession in 2014, tired of working 7 days a week for a graduate salary with 2 kids to support.

(4)(0)

Trumpenkrieg

So Secret Barrister is telling students to make crucial decisions with life long implications on the basis of “a perhaps naive faith that something is going to give in the next few years”?

Either he/she/it is stupid, or he/she/it has a vested interest in duping the next generation of shit-shovelers to happily take their place at the bottom of the Legal Aid Bar’s food chain so that he/she/it can continue to sustain he/she/it’s virtue-signalling middle class lifestyle.

(4)(0)

Future top tier criminal pupil

Honestly, at a big ticket criminal set, how much can I expect to earn in early years of practice?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

It really depends as if you are at one of the few top tier sets you may be fortunate and receive a steady stream of junior briefs, private work and non-crime work. Many of the juniors will rely on professional discipline work to make up the majority of their incomes. Others will do long secondments to the fca/SFO. So to answer your question, at a top tier criminal set you are more immune to the legal aid challenges but that is really because you would be doing much less legal aid work.

(2)(0)

Massingbird

you might have receipts of 20 – 35k years 1-3 , so after clerks fees and rent bugger all. Really top sets might be a little bit more if they get you a secondment or some private work but highly unlikely to be more than 50k receipts.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

‘Tory Cuts’ – what is this, the Guardian?

Impartiality please.

(3)(2)

Trumpenkrieg

Don’t tell the snowflakes that Labour brought in many of the cuts they’re railing against. They might melt.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

They very much do need to be told this, repeatedly, until it sinks in.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

And of course the wonderful Conservative Party has reversed all those evil cuts, haven’t they?

Pay no attention to the nasty man!

(0)(0)

Dissolutioned Hack

As the MoJ has not increased the rates paid to criminal legal aid lawyers since 1998 and has instead indulged in a programme of sly and headline cuts whilst imposing a new three year contract on solicitor providers that makes no provision for inflation linked rises, HMG doesn’t need to do anything further to wipe out criminal providers. Average profitability is 5%, inflation is 2.9% which equals an average loss next year.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Nothing Bob Neill says is to be trusted. He was instrumental in forcing through the cuts in the first place and his behaviour towards Tony Hidden during a legal aid debate on Radio 4 was appalling.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.