Law students are virtually barred from pursuing a career in legal aid anymore, unless they’re rich

By on

74% say they’ve been put off the sector, I was one of them

Legal aid and the City have always been poles apart. The former has never had the wealth, flashiness and prestige of the latter and has, therefore, never been the preserve of Zone 1 apartment-chasing law graduates. But 2012 saw public funding savaged. Now, practice areas like housing, immigration, crime and family are increasingly under-resourced and increasingly unattractive to potential employees.

In 2012, I had just finished my A-levels and was moving on to study for my LLB. Naïve to the world of graduate recruitment budgets and growing frustrated with City firms’ dominance of careers’ fairs, networking events, interview sessions, talks and open days, I shunned it all in the knowledge that one day I’d be a successful legal aid lawyer.

Work experience placements, decent grades and a desire to do something that didn’t involve making rich people even richer made me a good candidate, I thought. But as legal aid cuts took hold, my eyes began to turn.

During my LLB, compared to the years before I started, the criminal and other legal aid lawyers I was meeting seemed more fatalistic about their jobs. When I asked one uniquely cheerful solicitor what he’d say to someone thinking of going into criminal practice, he chuckled before confiding: “don’t”. Everyone just seemed sadder.

I, like most politicians these days, resisted the opinions of experts and plodded on with work experience placements and more. But as more people said ‘don’t do it’, I realised this wasn’t an anti-Katie conspiracy but valuable advice I should be following.

Looking ahead I realised that without a cushion of family wealth or a rich partner to help me self fund the Legal Practice Course (LPC), I’d have found myself in debt before I’d even started what was set to be an extremely badly paid training contract and subsequent career. More financial problems come when attempting to build a lasting career out of what increasingly has come to resemble a hobby. And let’s not even get started on London housing prices.

This — coupled with some horrendous stories about pregnant solicitors being kicked in the stomach by clients and being spat at during police station night shifts — made the choice subjectively difficult but objectively clear.

Waving goodbye to a perhaps foolishly-held childhood dream is less painful than it is disorientating. Though I knew I didn’t want to train in legal aid law I paralegalled for a bit at a family law firm. It was a good time-limited experience. Every day was a fight against photocopiers that don’t work, desks stacked with coffee-stained papers, subject matter you can’t leave behind at work and Legal Aid Agency phone call wait times. Nothing goes smoothly.

In the heyday of my legal aid dream, it would have taken a lot to deter me from the job. But there was a lot to deter me from the job. I’m unsurprised, therefore, that a Legal Cheek Twitter poll shows three quarters of law students have been put off pursuing a career in legal aid in recent years, too.

That still leaves a significant minority of justice-hungry law students clinging for dear life to the words of anonymous advocate the Secret Barrister, who told me:

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 naïve 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.

This rallying call has prompted me to take stock of the decision I made to pack in the quest for legal aid lawyer life. Did I give up too soon? Did I let myself down by not persevering with a cause I truly believed in? Would I be happier now had I kept going?

Hearing from Legal Cheek reader and English graduate Emily reassured me my position wasn’t unique. Once fiercely committed to the cause, while working at Citizens Advice she concedes:

I watched the entire legal aid division of Citizens Advice disappear, and suddenly callers were increasingly being referred to other agencies or for self-help. It became increasingly obvious to me that I was not going to be able to sustain a career in that area as a solicitor, and so I got a job in the private client department of a local firm and I’ve been there for two years now.

It’s hard to regret my albeit reluctant step back from legal aid practice when so many others share my sentiment. One Legal Cheek commenter said: “As much as I love the idea and understand the necessity of legal aid, I am not going to starve to serve the good.” Another, commenting as ‘Go to the City’, admitted: “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.”

Working in family, housing and the like will reward you in many ways. The sense of giving back to the community and the exciting variety of the job are commonly cited among legal aid lawyers. What it won’t reward you with is predictability, sustainability or — legal aid’s Achilles’ heel no doubt — a comfortable life that enables you to live independently of the financial support of others. The choice is yours — I made mine.

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Not Amused

Because of your youth you fixate on 2012. But legal aid as a viable career ended with Jack Straws cuts at the start of the millennium.

Legal Aid services need to be provided by a nationalised group of public employed lawyers – a form of legal national health service.

Until that happens the legal aid lawyers will be tarred with the wealth of lawyers like me and the public will have no sympathy or understanding. Neither political party gives two figs about the current situation. Thst means thst picking one side or the other is a waste of time. Legal Aid lawyers will need the help of sympathetic MPs on a cross party basis if they are to survive.

But until that miracle occurs no child who lacks substantial private wealth should even entertain the idea of a career in this. To do so is martyrdom



Very true. Of the criminal barristers and judgeship I have spoken to, most believe an American “state attorney” system is inevitable. A CPS for defendants if you will.

However, this will not see salaries increase. It won’t be like doctors on the NHS. The barristers will be paid pennies.

The quality of legal representation will continue to drop, with most going into the field because they aren’t good enough to earn more in a commercial setting. Some will just be rich and do it as a hobby. But not many. And it wouldn’t guarantee quality in any case.

Where will our judges come from? What criminal experience will be have in the Court of Appeal or UKSC? Who will lead on criminal matters? Will we have any judges with a large background in criminal law?

Labour and the Tories have been committed to destroying legal aid for a decade or two. There’s no hope. Drastic changes are needed, and they won’t come.


Corbyn. Symphathiser

Sounds like socialism to me.


Online Shakespeare impersonator

I’m virtually bard







I didn’t.

Old money corporate big dawg

I’m rich and I don’t want a career in legal aid.



No you’re not. You are just some sad twat student who thinks it’s all going to be a massive breeze to launch into a successful career in corporate law on the basis that you think your university (and therefore you) are the epitome of greatness.

The reality is that you have your oversized head firmly ensconced in your proportionately oversized rectal passage and the realisation that the supply of LLB graduates far outstrips the demand that there is in the CL sector. When it hits you, it will be like a ‘king express train and your delusions will lead to sleepless nights, depression and, finally, a more pragmatic normalisation of your perception of your own worth to the world.

Sorry but, you know, there it is…



Bet you work for a ‘firm’ in Doncaster, Anonymous



Then you’d be very wrong.

But you are very welcome to go fuck yourself all the same.



Forgot to add – “you obnoxious snotty twat” to the end of that. Apologies all.

Corporate lyfeeeeer

Chip on shoulder by any chance, Anonymous? Man of the people picking up all of these legal cheek likes.. #betyoulikeyourowncomments


Well, I haven’t liked my own comments (as really that’s a bit sad).

So maybe, just maybe, it’s actually the case that not everyone shares your own colonically-limited/privileged worldview ?


Corporate lyfeeeeer

Couldn’t be bothered to read your hashtag, too busy counting money..


Nice. I just look at my bank statement. It’s easier. #toptip


Don’t count out training at a legal aid firm. You’ll get a lot more experience and client contact than at a private/city firm and the hours are usually the standard 9 – 5. You can always jump ship to private practice following qualification and you’ll be an attractive NQ candidate with experience of running your cases.


K&E Senior Associate

Agreed. The experience gained dealing with Daz’s eighth caution for possession translates seamlessly into doing international funds work, everyone here trained in Ilford.


criminal legal aid trainee for my sins

The hours are 9-5????? The hours in a criminal law firm are almost 24/7. If you’re police station accredited you often work nights and weekends. For this you receive a fixed fee and can spend all night at the police station. Finish a job that took you ten hours at 3am? You have to get the night bus home as the LAA (and therefore your firm) will only pay for taxis in exceptional circumstances.

Then you have to go back to work the next day because that police station wont chip away at your billing target, when you consider all the work you will put in speaking to the client/client’s family and chasing the officer for a result. Don’t do this and you will likely lose the client and any hope of breaking even on the police station file.

So you’re at work for say 10 hours, as paralegal/trainee. During that time you will have to do numerous tasks the LAA deem to be administrative such as speaking with the client who may be vulnerable, not speak English or have a low IQ and may require a significant amount of hand holding. Or applying for legal aid in the first place which requires filling out numerous forms, responding to idiotic queries from the LAA (for example, does your youth client receive pocket money in excess of £12,000 per year. Please provide a letter from his mother stating she does not give him more than this amount of money. Or… please inform us how your client who was homeless but is now in prison pays his bills?)

‘chargeable work’ must be done to the LAA’s strict timeframes – got complex documents which require detailed analysis? forget about it – you can only claim 2 minutes per page for anything you view.

if you are a solicitor and attend court you can spend all day at court ‘waiting’ – something the LAA does not pay for. maybe you wanted that case listed first so you could make another hearing – good luck, many courts will not pick up their phones all day. then you have to go back to your office and actually do some chargeable work.

If your case goes to the crown court, the picture is much worse. its a fixed fee, no matter how much evidence (under 10,000 pages) there is to consider, evidence to gather or visits with a vulnerable client. which means some firms do no work on a crown court case, where as others work their arses off. they get the same money.

its constantly being torn between trying to do your best for your client, which is invariably not something you can bill for.

so no. its not 9-5. but it is one of the most rewarding careers. lets hope someone starts to appreciate the good legal aid lawyers and encourage the bad ones to do better.




Please do a full article for LC. This would show a far more balanced view of the law.



This is true, but if you’re not billing page counts under 10,000 pages on your Crown Court work, you’re doing it all wrong and could be losing your firm thousands of pounds.


criminal legal aid trainee for my sins

of course I’m billing them – do you think we do 99% of our crown court work for free? I merely said there was a fixed fee available – obviously graduated by the page count, but hardly enough to compensate properly the work in prepping a crown court trial.

oh and if you client cracks the trial before the jury is sworn, wave goodbye to 50% of your fee, even though you’ve done the same amount of work on the file.

Tired Legal Aid Lawyer

Using the scarce resources of a legal aid firm to become qualified to then clear off to a private client firm may be helpful to the newly qualified solicitor, but time would have been better invested in someone who wanted to do the work?


criminal legal aid trainee for my sins




Alex reads and realises that Katie’s dream job does not involve writing about semi-naked wannabe lawyers on Instagram. Alex weeps.


Corbyn. Symphathiser

Pretty shoddy imitation of ‘Frustrated Writer’, this.



You’re an imitation of another poster so you’re even shoddier, you beta cuck.


Corbyn. Sympathiser

Pretty shoddy imitation of Corbyn. Sympathiser, I am



And a shit version of a Star Wars character you are.



Imagine wanting a career in legal aid at the bar. Thr wealth of a training contract is beyond the dreams is avarice by comparison.



Myself and my partner are legal aid lawyers. When we started it was reasonably paid and you could expect to get up to 60k per year as a busy Duty solicitor. Not anymore. The higher paid solicitors at law firms earn top end 30k salaries. To get into 40k plus you need to do full time HCA work. But is the work worth the pay? Not really. Endless beurocracy with the LAA. Ungrateful clients. Hugely antisocial hours (I work every Friday night on call). Its just not worth it. I try and put all new recruits off the job. Seems like a good idea as an idealistic youth. As an adult seems like a poor choice.



Katie’s therapist must have asked her to write this.



“Virtually barred” – nonsense! Where there’s a will, there’s a way!



Yes, I’m currently doing legal aid – but not in London. However the author of this poorly researched story seems to think the legal world is only based in London!! I would advise her to get out of London and go somewhere else if she truly wants to do legal aid. But she’s probably made up her own excuses already for not doing that – hence her heart was never really into it in the first place.



Typical millennial: “I want to make a difference in the world”.
“You’re going to have to make some sacrifices which will involve cutting down your trips to Starbucks”.
“Yeah, no thanks”


Trumpenkriegfinder General

I think this might be Trumpy.

Again though, I find myself bizarrely in agreement with him (I promise to seek counselling ;-)). A lot of Millennials are, most unfortunately, pampered babies suffering from overblown NES. Then again, too many Baby Boomers are Telegraph/Mail reading trumpets.



Overblown Nintendo Entertainment Systems?


Eminent Psychologist

Narcissistic Entitlement Syndrome innit

Windel Mädchen

Ooh… get you!

Daphne & Celeste

Yo mamma too…

An’ yo Dadd-eh!


It is not a binary choice.

Lots of people are downtrodden, not just the LA clients who are given free houses, free money (benefits), free lawyers, free childcare etc etc.

I act for many small businesses that get shafted one way or another. Fighting their corner to protect the patron’s livelihood against greedy landlords, HMRC, local authorities, adverse costs orders etc. can be hugely rewarding. Yes, you might get paid well but there is great satisfaction to be taken following a great result in court; the family are hugging and crying with relief knowing that they can continue to run the family shop/restaurant etc. because of the hard work you and the solicitor have done.


Cockney Geezer

Wen it’s cheaper to arrange a contract duffing up of your opponent than go to law , the lemon and lime rates do go up.




I know of a small firm in the valleys where the partner makes £200k pa from legal aid doing knock around work.

Legal aid is only prohibitive in London based on KK’s limited article.



Agree – very narrow piece based on just her experience and not the wider picture. It’s actually damaging for legal aid with sloppy writing like this being published and putting off young people wanting to get into legal aid. I say this having done legal aid work.



Hear! Hear! I’m appalled at the negative publicity in this silly piece with the writer trying to put people off who genuinely want to do legal aid. It is possible for those who have the determination to find the way – even if that means (god forbid) moving out of trendy london.



Sure, there are people at the top still taking it in. But if you want to start off now, there’s no way you’ll ever reach that stage. It will be gone by the time you’re there, and you’ll be on pennies for years whereas that parent would have earthy good money on the way up. Plenty of legal aid lawyers, barristers and QCs included, earning poor money even outside London.



This article is a bit naive. A lot of us when we were teenagers thought we could do law for altruistic reasons having watched TV programmes about it. Then we all grew up.



Go back 20, 30, 40 years and you could earn good money doing criminal work.


Frustrated Writer

The Reporter was in many ways disappointed to find himself trolling the low level legal website, but in others, glad to he was. The main reason was obviously the thick wedge of bank notes that found its way to him each month, many of which, he regretted, immediately found their way to the till of the local whiskey shop.

The Reporter had decided to change his meeting spot with Alex. The car park had proven a reliable and discrete location, but the Reporter had learned a long time before from the range of government agents, counter terrorist operatives and dark ops soldiers he had worked with not to feel comfortable carrying out business in one spot for too long. Additionally, Alex’s new mode of transport troubled the Reporter, and meeting away from the car park felt like a distance from that, almost an invisible line in the sand.

He therefore found himself sat on a stool at the bar in east London pub late on a Wednesday evening, nursing a glass of Scotch and waiting for Alex to show. It was a good location, the Reporter thought. It was off the beaten track, the peeling paint and aged 1970s era leather sofas too old and tired to attract the City crowd, but it was not old and tired enough to be ironically cool with the hipsters. The owner of the establishment was nowhere to be seen, the Reporter having requested his absence, and silence, in return for a small roll of notes. The Reporter suspected it was the most he had made in a night for months.

Alex appeared, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the dim lights in the pub. He was wearing the same suit and shirt as before, but they now looked a little more threadbare and creased. He had definitely slept in them, and his red eyes suggested it had not been a good sleep. He spotted the reporter sat at the bar and approached him, lowering himself onto the adjoining bar stool tentatively.

“Hi, how are you?” Alex asked, presumably knowing he would not get a response. His breath, the Reporter noted, was a mixture of alcohol and gone off cheese.

“Let’s get down to business, Aldridge” the Reporter said in his usual dismissive tone, barely moving or acknowledging Alex.

Alex was a little startled by the directness, even though he was well versed by now in how the Reporter operated. He put it down to his own grogginess. The evening before had been a long one, sat on a park bench knocking back homemade snakebite and vodka chasers. The night he had spent sleeping on the back seat of his car, being awoken by a tow truck at 3:00am hadn’t helped. Pleading with the driver not to take his car was also not fun. The smell of stale beer in the pub was making his stomach turn, reminding him he had only eaten a slice of mouldy pizza that day. He already regretted arguing with his mum. He missed her garage floor.

Finally Alex summoned the nerve to speak. “Well, you’ve done great bringing Not Amused back. Thanks.”. He tentatively looked at the reporter, seated to his left, hoping for a response. But there was none, as the older man stared emotionless into the middle distance in front of him. Alex was thrown off but continued. “But I really need Trumpenkreig too. People go crazy for him.”. Their previous meeting spot had not allowed Alex to see any reaction to this request in the past, but he noticed now, under the dim yellow lights of the pub that this comment caused the Reporter to flinch.

The Reporter was a man full of regret and dogged by his life experience. He had looked a mass murderer in the eye as he took his final breath in the electric chair. He had watched from the side-lines, hidden in the undergrowth, listening to screams and helpless, as Burmese rebels raised a village with flame throwers. Many of his experiences haunted him, causing him to wake each night drenched in sweat and screaming blue murder. That was one of the causes of his third marriage breaking down. It was a lot to ask of any woman to live with a man who had to retreat to the written word to find any peace from the deep black hole inside him.

Despite this, there was a depth of depravity that even the Reporter could not sink to. He still had some soul left, and this was a comfort to him in his darkest hour. That was why he hoped each time they met that Alex did not ask for Trumpenkreig comments. Those he had to outsource to someone who had sunk beyond the worst of humanity, or perhaps been born at that level.

“You want more hits, I guess?” asked the Reporter, characteristically cutting to the chase and trying to deflect from his reaction. He half turned his face towards Alex, not looking at him directly. “You need to invest a little more. I’ve told you before. It’ll cost you”. He took a long sip of Scotch, and placed the glass back on the stained bar. “But it’s worth it”.

“Ok, I’ll pay. But please, I’m not sure how long I can do this for.”. Alex moved uncomfortably on his stool, nervously kicking the edge of the wooden bar with his crossed legs, before eventually mumbling “I’m running out of cash”.

The Reporter rolled his eyes. “That’s not my problem. My problem is dealing with my guy when you don’t pay. Again. Do I need to explain the type of person we’re dealing with here? He’s dangerous. Psychotic even. Just give me his share now, and you’ll get the comments. Got it?”.

Alex nodded slowly and reached into his jacket, pulling out a dog eared white envelope. “Here. It’s the last of it. Just ask him to make them really objectionable, please?” the begging in Alex’s voice was hard to miss.

The Reporter took the envelope and put it into his pocket. He didn’t count the contents. He didn’t trust Alex but was too busy thinking about his next meeting. “That goes without saying.”.

The Reporter sank the rest of his Scotch and stood to leave, collecting his rain coat from the empty stool next to him. He needed the Dutch courage.



Yeah, it’s more Malcolm Pryce than Charles Dickens – but I guess you’d see that as a compliment.


Cuckfinder General

I sense Corbyn. Sympathiser. Break in the conference from stalking Laura Kneussberg?



Corbyn. Imposter. more like.



Getting a bit samey


Legal Cheek - where is the Cheek?

Yesterday it was Alex writing some non-news waffle about Legal Cheek instructing a law firm. Today it’s Katie spilling her broken career dreams before us. Tomorrow we can hope for an insight from Tom about his fake tan products and how many rejection letters he received for a pupillage or training contract. Can’t wait.



The lack of information about different areas of practice and different careers is a real barrier to students from non-professional backgrounds. Make sure you find out salaries and about practice viability before closing doors. Be specific and ask for salaries.



A choice in Legal Aid representation was never about money, but it has now become uneconomical.



News: Law student shocked to find her dreams to fight for justice and equality isn’t part of a Hollywood or TV script and she’ll have to make some sacrifices and move out of London. She decides not to. The End.



Why not become a legal aid lawyer and supplement your earnings by being a porn star?



Because overweight middle-aged men in wigs is a very niche market!



Can someone please pass Katie some vinegar for the enormous chip on her shoulder



People do just love to lay into KK don’t they. Misogyny perhaps ? La doleur exquise ?

There was nothing chippy about Katie’s piece at all as far as I read it. Only what you chose to see in it.

Maybe a) grow up and b) get a life.

(before anyone starts, and for the avoidance of doubt, I am not KK or her mum or her cousin or the newsagent she buys her paper from. I don’t know her and have never met her – the sentiments still apply !)



Most of them fancy her but know they’d never even get close to contending…



She has a nice smile and isn’t fat. That does not mean she is anything special or gods gift to men and I highly doubt she has queues of men contending for her attention. My wife is far more attractive than her and I am not exactly the best looking guy in the world. Katie is not out of anyone’s league.


The Watcher

I call BS.

I saw you typing this in the law library.

You’re fat, spotty and have no mates or girlfriend.

Three Eyed Raven

Yeah, I saw this also + his middle name is Farquhart


Katie’s newsagent she buys Hello from?



Hi Alex!



KK probably doesn’t even know what a green slip is when she writes about legal aid.



I think those are the medium absorbency ones…



Awful BTEC banter.



This has got to stop.

I am not incontinent and do not wear incontinence pass.

It’s not funny to laugh at people with this condition either.



Yes you do!

You wear NAPPIES!!!!


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