Falling through the cracks of the furlough scheme — a NQ lawyer’s perspective

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‘I feel I have effectively been forced out of the profession’, a junior family solicitor writes

I’m a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor and I’m currently going through a really tough time. I wanted to explain my story to you and also I would be very grateful if you have any advice for me as to where I could now turn.

I am 25, and the last few months have been a whirlwind for me and has sadly resulted in me falling through one of the gaps in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

For the past six and a half years I have studied and then worked full-time towards my goal of becoming a family law solicitor. I completed my training contract on 2 March 2020. I was ecstatic to finally reach my goal after so many years of such hard work. My firm were unable to offer me a position in the department that I had developed a passion for, so I took the plunge and moved to a new city for the role of my dreams as a family solicitor.

I started the new role on 16 March and could not wait to get started helping clients and their children through what can be some of the most difficult times of their lives. Little did I know, I was about to experience the most difficult time of my own life.

On 20 March, the CJRS was announced. Weirdly, this day was actually the first day that coronavirus had begun to affect my mental health — I called my parents on my way home from work as I always do, and surprised myself by bursting into tears — I think the fear of the unknown had set in. My parents comforted me, telling me about the CJRS as I had missed the announcement, and as I ended the phone call I felt slightly more relaxed.

Rishi Sunak had promised that the government would do whatever it took to support jobs and we “would not face this alone”. The scheme is great and I completely appreciate that it has had to be built from scratch. But when the government guidance was updated on 26 March, I was back on the emotional rollercoaster. It said that to be eligible for furlough, I had to be on payroll on or before 28 February, which clearly I wouldn’t be for my new employer. I was heartbroken and filled with anxiety. The government claim that this date is needed to avoid employers from fraudulently adding employees, just to claim the furlough grants. However, I was already working at my new role before the CJRS was announced so there was no way for my role to be fraudulent.

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In the next few days I received the call from my new employer informing me of their only real option, which was to make me redundant. By this time, the guidance had been updated to state that my previous employer may help by rehiring me and putting me on furlough. Despite me explaining my predicament, my old employer was unable to rehire and furlough despite me begging multiple times and my MP calling them to ask them to do so. I believe a major issue in this, is that my status had changed from trainee to solicitor so it would have been really difficult for them to re-employ me and to furlough me.

On 15 April, the government guidance was further updated/altered. As opposed to employees having to be on payroll before 28 February, the date was now 19 March. I cried with happiness as I read the guidance, thinking this now meant I could be furloughed. Then, I read the next sentence — an RTI (Real Time Information) must have been sent by my employer before 19 March. A quick Google told me that this is normally submitted on payday, which for me, is the end of the month. I spoke to my new employer who confirmed that this was submitted at the end of the month.

I have since discovered that the majority of employees are paid monthly, towards the end of the month. The majority of employers submit their RTIs at this time. Therefore the “extension” to the 19 March helped only a few employees who are paid weekly.

So many people are in the same boat, struggling financially and mentally after being on the same emotional rollercoaster. It is horrific to read people contemplating suicide on a daily basis because of this. It feels so unfair to be excluded just because we changed jobs at the wrong time.

There is no risk of my new employer fraudulently furloughing me as I was employed before the CJRS was announced. I signed my employment contract all the way back in January, and I received payslips for both March and April.

I believe the government could remove the current eligibility term of a pre March 19 2020 RTI submission. Instead, employees should be eligible for the scheme if the start date on their employer’s RTI submission is pre March 19 2020. For those who had contractually secured employment but who’s start date was post March 19 2020, I would ask that evidenced and timestamped contracts of employment signed pre March 19 2020 grant these employees CJRS eligibility too.

I am part of a campaign, New Starter Justice, which has the support of thousands of individuals and MPs. You can read our open letter here.

I believe that it is fairly common for trainees to qualify in the month of March. I also believe that there must be a large number of trainees who, upon qualification, do not stay with the firm that they trained with. Therefore, I would imagine that there must be a number of NQ solicitors in my position and this will surely have a huge negative impact on those who are just entering the profession.

I have been completely shaken by this experience and am completely confident that it will be months until I can return to the legal profession. I am also highly dubious about my job prospects, as a firm would need to provide me with a high level of support and guidance as an NQ, something that they may not be able to afford to do during this pandemic, and they may favour individuals with a higher post qualification experience. I feel I have effectively been forced out of the profession. I am having to search for literally any other kind of role right now, just for an income.

Melanie M (pseudonym) is a newly-qualified solicitor specialising in family law.

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Gosh. How can this happen???



There is a good reason why the government would impose such limits – if the requirements of the furlough scheme were more lax or too nuanced, there could be massive fraud with companies hiring extra people just to get them furloughed to get 80% of their salary from the government. Because the scheme was announced on such a large scale, there is no way the government can check all application – hundreds of millions of state funds could be dissipated this way. Just google how local and international fraudsters make fake benefits applications for millions of dollars in the US and Europe (which are much more scrutinised than applications for furlough scheme).

At the same time this case is terrible, I qualified just a year ago and cannot imagine how demoralised and destroyed I would be in this situation. “Melanie” is clearly and strong and resourceful person (judging by this campaign), I am sure she would do really well in the profession,



Terrible situation



Happened to us all in 2008.

An entire generation flung to the wall.

Only those with family connections got through.

Such is life.



Sorry to hear about your experience of qualifying. I cannot imagine how demoralising it has been. However long term I am sure you will be fine.

Fingers crossed for you finding temporary in the short term. You never know, whatever you find might be a great experience!



Sorry to hear son, would be happy to take you on to clean the lambo on a weekly basis if that works? Will pay more than the family law gig you were starting (obviously!).



Shouldn’t you be at least 1 year PQE by now, or have they kept you back for poor performance?

It might be time to grow up.



What a horrible and nasty comment that is worse than serving no purpose as you just kicked a person while they are down for nothing but entertainment purposes.



The anon comment above was a reply to the silly K&E NQ post, not the original article.



My comment was also directed at K&E NQ


Stain Roger

To be fair, I would be surprised if these comments didn’t surface. For me, their familiarity is a comfort in these disquieting times.



Don’t expect anything short of disgusting from that firm, I’ve heard so many stories of things going on there at the moment.



Pipe down junior, you’re giving all us trolls a bad name!


Kirkland NSP

Keep it up junior – show the plebs who’s boss.



Really awful.

I signed the open letter. Great to see lots of Labour and Lib Dem MPs supporting the cause. No surprise to see just the one Conservative MP signature. They really are a truly vile party.



I feel sorry for you but why not go to work in a supermarket or other job where workers are needed?



I keep seeing all these ‘just go and work in a supermarket’ posts but have any of you actually checked to see which supermarkets are hiring? I’m in a similar position and not a single supermarket within 10 miles of my area is hiring. They did all their hiring months ago, at the start of the pandemic.



You could have been a contact tracer.


Tesco HR

Try 11 miles then. Not trying too hard are we?



Sorry about your situation. Its really tough, but, unfortunately in life there may well be situations that are outside your control and you’ll have to think ‘outside the box’ to get through. This is one of them. No matter how hard you work, how passionate you are, you aren’t any different to the millions of other people in this country, some who maybe in an even worse situation. So rather than ‘dwelling’, have a rethink, be clear headed, look at other options and come up with a couple of alternative plans of action for how to get through this. As yet, none of us know how the job market will be, in say 6 months from now. Think about what skills you can improve on during this time, so that you have even more to offer when employment picks up? Good luck. Its good that you have parents who are supportive.



Sad story and my sympathies etc, but would anybody know the current NQ whack at Hutsch Frank Booker & Schmeltz? Thinking of pinging my CV across.



Yeah you send them your soul and good health and they provide an annuity of £180-£200k base pa.


Camp Richard

You’ll be fine. Think of all the people further down the ladder than you — all those paralegals and law students without training contracts lined up. Compared to them, you’re in a much stronger position. All you have to do is keep your head down for the next year or so — find whatever work you can to tide you over — and before you know it you’ll be right back where you were, at the start of what will no doubt be a brilliant career. You’re still young. You’ve got everything to play for.



Sorry about your situation. Its really tough, but, unfortunately in life there may well be situations that are outside your control and you’ll have to think ‘outside the box’ to get through. This is one of them. No matter how hard you work, how passionate you are, you aren’t any different to the millions of other people in this country, some who maybe in an even worse situation. So rather than ‘dwelling’, have a rethink, be clear headed, look at other options and come up with a couple of alternative plans of action for how to get through this. As yet, none of us know how the job market will be, in say 6 months from now. Think about what skills you can improve on during this time, so that you have even more to offer when employment picks up? Good luck. Its good that you have parents who are supportive.



Rules for the greater good may work harshly on individuals. There a lot of people in worse position than you. Though when you said “Weirdly, this day was actually the first day that coronavirus had begun to affect my mental health” was when I began to think your firm may have made the right decision.



Snowflakes. Triggered by anything.



Whilst I think you make the point in an insensitive way, I do think the same sometimes. Is it wrong to value mental stability as a quality in a lawyer. Isn’t resilience a quality we should value?



Agreed. Here’s the Tips for Lawyers podcast in 2019 warning that:

Law is Hard: Deal with It.

There are many jobs in the world, and lawyer is one of the more stressful. If you have mental health issues (as both fashionable and over-diagnosed as that term is now), consider a different career.

As a profession we have an obsession on solely selecting on academic performance, to the detriment of anything else. We are doing a disservice both to clients, and to prospective junior lawyers, some of whom we break. There is an analogy to the military: the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force operate the Admiralty Interview Board, Army Officer Selection Board, and Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre, respectively, to select their officer candidates. All three selection centres deliberately put candidates under physical and mental pressure, to see how they cope. The weak are weeded out. This isn’t for some brutal, sadistic whim – it is simply because some people will not handle the pressure. No one is helped if those people are allowed in.

This is common sense. Just as we cannot have ugly models, asthmatic athletes, blind lollipop ladies, or deaf air traffic controllers, we can’t have military personnel who, under pressure, ‘go wibble’. Ability to handle stress is a bona fide occupational requirement. The original Army Officer Selection Board, the so-called Regular Commissions Board, was created because of this very problem: lot of bright upper-class young men were drafted into the Army in the First World War, and broke under the pressure. It transpired that merely an Oxbridge education and “good breeding” wasn’t enough to lead soldiers and engage the enemy in dismounted close combat. There are parallels with legal jobs which we ignore at our peril.

Perhaps we are doomed to suffer from polite, politically correct fantasies in the West. After all, they are cathartic, and we do feel morally virtuous asserting them. But, as Orwell warned, “…we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Fortunately, no one is stupid enough to suggest that the armed forces must ignore people’s resilience, or lack thereof, when selecting candidates. Perhaps that is because, ultimately, we know that such delusions will bump up against Orwell’s solid battlefield reality.

Let’s be more honest when selecting for training contracts, and put applicants under a lot more pressure, to see how they cope. Equally, potential applicants need to be realistic: if you think you have so-called “mental health problems”, find a different career. You’re wasting everyone’s time if you can’t handle pressure.


A Nun

I agree with the broad point about the need for resilience generally for a career in law, and definitely agree about actually testing people under pressure when recruiting, but I don’t think it follows at all that people with mental health problems should therefore not become lawyers.

As a City corporate lawyer living with depression for 10+ years, I can safely say that no stress in my career to date has been as bad as what I dealt with as part of my depression. Has it been more of a struggle for me? Yes and no – yes I’ve had more things to deal with, but no in that I knew I had been through worse.

Also, let’s be fair here – there are plenty of areas of law where you can practice with relatively low expectations and stresses.



This thread is the most toxic thing I have ever read. You can have mental health issues and still be resilient and effective.

Also, when you start an argument by claiming mental health issues are “fashionable” you’re putting yourself on the wrong side of the argument.



“This thread is the most toxic thing I have ever read.” Classic snowflake drama from the off.



Yes, fashionable:

“This is a very complex subject with many subjective aspects. As someone who has worked in mental health for 30 years I detect considerable concept creep. The threshold for being diagnosed is lower and a wider range of complaints are being described as mental illness. So I do not believe there is an epidemic of mental illness but there is an epidemic of publicity. Perhaps this is a sign of increased compassion or self indulgence. It’s hard to say. But let’s not confuse hard times, bad days, the process of maturing with mental illness.”
– Stuart Hannell

“I’m afraid I agree with you. I’m a psychotherapist who works with patients suffering from PTSD. My sense from my own experience is that we are increasingly pathologising the normal gamut of human distress and the understandable reactions to extraordinary trauma and hardships life can bring to bear. That in no way denigrates or minimises the enormous suffering and emotional pain experienced . From my own work more often than not the level of trauma experienced and resulting mental health struggles is unrelated to an original event but more the perceived and actual lack of social support available at crucial junctures in a patient’s life . The DSM 5 has played a huge role in this pathologising by creating ever more definitions and labels for US medical insurance purposes.”
– ML Day
Comments under, ‘Pouring billions into treating mental illness doesn’t add up’, Matthew Parris, The Times, November 24 2018




Here is an article from someone else for more qualified than me to make the point about mental health being exaggerated.

BMJ 2017;358:j4305 doi: 10.1136/bmj.j4305 (Published 2017 September 21), downloadable from

** Simon Wessely: “Every time we have a mental health awareness week my spirits sink” **

The first psychiatrist president of the Royal Society of Medicine is worried that over-awareness of mental ill health will sink an under-resourced service

One of the UK’s most prominent psychiatrists has called for an end to public awareness campaigning about mental health. It “massively expands demand” on already stretched NHS services and may be convincing people they are ill when they are not, warns Simon Wessely, who was until June president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“Every time we have a mental health awareness week my spirits sink,” says Wessely, who in July became the first psychiatrist
to be president of the Royal Society of Medicine. “We don’t need people to be more aware. We can’t deal with the ones who already are aware.”

Fresh from his move to the royal society, Wessely remains concerned about the over-reporting and under-resourcing of mental illness, and the lack of integration between mental and physical health services—despite NHS England head Simon Stevens’ affirmation last month that mental health is now “front and centre” of the health service agenda.

“I’m really worried that we will overstretch and demoralise our mental health services if all we do is raise awareness but don’t provide more people, better circumstances, better support, and less burden of regulation,” he told The BMJ.

Too much awareness

Recent years have seen a major drive by government, the NHS, and mental health charities to change attitudes towards mental health and to raise its profile in line with physical health. In a crescendo of media coverage, royals and celebrities have opened up about their own struggles.

Despite having welcomed Prince Harry’s interview about his mental health in April this year, Wessely believes we can have too much of a good thing: too much awareness. He particularly questions surveys in which most students report having mental health problems.

“We should stop the awareness now. In fact, if anything we might be getting too aware. One wonders what’s happening when you have 78% of students telling their union they have mental health problems—you have to think, ‘Well, this seems unlikely.’”
If we have made progress on the profile of mental health, then the same cannot be said of the resourcing of services against a background of increasing demand. Theresa May has pledged to “end the burning injustice of mental health and inadequate treatment” [3] and this summer the government announced a £1.3bn (€1.5bn; $1.8bn) plan to expand mental health services by recruiting enough nurses, therapists, and consultants to treat an extra million patients by 2020/2021. [4]

Yet some noted that this would only begin to replace over 6000 mental health nursing posts that have been closed since 2010, [5] and the Royal College of Nursing warned that it would be hard to train enough people within the timeframe set. [6]

“The worry is that they will get a lot of pretty cheap [people]. They will have to be cheap, not that well trained, inexperienced people who will do nice touchy feely stuff—but they’re not going to be able to manage the difficult stuff,” says Wessely.


Wessely, whose main role is regius professor of psychiatry at King’s College London, believes that what would make the most difference, in terms of breaking down stigma and improving services for patients, is proper integration of mental and physical health services. “I’d give up parity between mental and physical health any day if I could have integration,” he says. What patients most want is for mental and physical services to be together, he says, because it is when staff work together that they understand each other’s —and the patient’s—needs better.

But, however logical that may seem, with mental health trusts separate from physical health the system set up under the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 does not make it easy to offer this kind of integrated care. When psychiatrists see patients who also have physical health problems, and vice versa, they cannot share their notes because the computer systems are separate and behind firewalls.

Although the government has said it wants to integrate services better, Wessely says that its much vaunted Improving Access
to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, introduced in 2008 to provide cognitive behavioural therapy services to people with anxiety and depression, has instead created a sort of “third way,” independent of both primary and secondary care.

The success of IAPT, which hit the government’s target in January of 50% recovery for those who complete a course of therapy, is being overplayed, he says, and the figures “massaged” because of the government’s need for treatments that show quick results.

Pest control

That mental health has become “fashionable” in recent years has not made it more appealing to medical students, Wessely notes. Stigma within the medical profession is a big part of the problem and in terms of changing their attitudes the “public are ahead
of us,” he says. Peer pressure and family pressure are two of the main reasons students state for not wanting to specialise in psychiatry.

Wessely, who qualified at Oxford and trained at the Maudsley Hospital in London, where he is still a consultant, knew he wanted to go into psychiatry early on. But he remembers countless times when colleagues spoke with derision about the specialty and suggested that he was too good a doctor to go into mental health. Some believed there was nothing wrong with mental health patients, some believed they were all “sabre wielding” and dangerous, and others believed anyone who is interested in psychiatry must be mad themselves.

“I vividly remember neurologists at Queen Square [the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London] would always say, ‘You seem a decent enough chap. I can’t understand why you want to do psychiatry.’ “My senior house officer was quite upset a few weeks ago when she turned up at the emergency department and someone said, ‘Oh look, here’s the pest controller.’ It’s terrible. That happens a lot.”


While concerned about the risks of making the public too aware of mental health, Wessely is passionate about tackling this stigma within the medical profession and finding ways to get medical students excited about psychiatry. As president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Wessely launched its Anti-BASH (#BantheBash) campaign to try to end the stigma within the profession. “I spent a lot of effort on that. We’ve stopped the rot. Recruitment of psychiatrists was going down and now it’s leveled out.”

He rejects as “nonsense” the idea that psychiatrists are themselves the most guilty, within the medical profession, of prejudice against some forms of mental illness.
“We are not part of the global conspiracy of making everyone into a mental health problem. We do the opposite,” says Wessely.
“We really are the people who try to maintain some form of boundary between sadness and depression, between eccentricity and autism, between shyness and social phobia. “We will say, ‘Look, this isn’t a psychiatric problem,’ because we are acutely aware of the dangers of overmedicalisation of what are normal emotional problems.” An expert in post traumatic stress disorder, Wessely’s work helped established the principle that victims of trauma should not see a psychiatrist or counsellor immediately as it can cause problems for the majority who will recover with time. “You might sometimes see that as unsympathetic. It’s based on having a view that we do not want to treat the world.”


1 Silver K. One in three “sick notes” for mental health, says NHS. 2017. news/health-41124238.
2 National Union of Students. Mental health poll 2015. mental-health-poll-2015.
3 Department for Education. Department of Health, the Charity Commission, Prime Ministers’s Office, 10 Downing Street, May T. The shared society: Prime minister’s speech at the Charity Commission annual meeting. 2017. the-shared-society-prime-ministers-speech-at-the-charity-commission-annual-meeting.
4 Department of Health. Thousands of new roles to be created inmenatl health workforce plan. 2017. mental-health-workforce-plan.
5 Berger L. Mental health services: nurses: written question: 50523. 2016. http://www.parliament. uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/ 2016-10-26/50523.
6 Royal College of Nursing. Press release: RCN responds to mental health workforce plan. 2017. wide/2017/july/rcn-responds-to-mental-health-workforce-plan.docx?la=en& hash=301CE6FD19587056CD0DFAA2D7677D5487608980.
7 The King’s Fund. Workforce planning in the NHS. 2015. default/files/field/field_publication_file/Workforce-planning-NHS-Kings-Fund-Apr-15.pdf.
8 Centre for Workforce Intelligence. Indepth review of the psychiatric workforce. 2014. www. Psychiatrist_in-depth_review.pdf.
9 Wise J. Some mental healthcare is “rooted in the past.” 2017. bmj.j3528.
10 Marsh S. Ambulance call-outs for mental health patients in England soar by 23%. 2017. soar-23-per-cent.
Published by the BMJ



Most of the furloughed are going to be fired at the end of the government handout scheme. The writer should be thankful she got a head start on the job applications. Just don’t cry into the burgers when she flips them.



As a top rate taxpayer I am appalled the furlough scheme applied to anyone with less than two years on the job. They are not eligible for redundancy and they are going to be culled after the waste of money that is the scheme comes to an end.



My case, I took a job early January, signed the contract end of February and started on the 2nd of March.

I was put on the PAYE system on the 7th of April, when payroll is due to process.

I have zero access to any scheme…

The extension of the scheme just means more discrimination and injustice for us…



You had a job for a couple of weeks and now you want us to pay your wages. Take a hike. Get over it scrounger.



It might be sensible, just as a possible interim measure, to consider whether you can get an NQ job in a different area of law. Obviously, this is far from ideal. But it may well be that areas other than Family are more likely to be hiring at the moment, and it may also be more relevant for you to spend 6 months doing something like that than whatever other job you find you can get.



There are winners and losers in every part of life and which category you fall into is often based on nothing more than good or bad luck. I am astonished that former-employers were being asked to re-hire people who had voluntarily left and would be surprised if many actually did so.

As someone who has experienced redundancy and ended up completely changing career as a result (which turned out to be the best thing I ever did), I believe there is a lot to be said for trying to make lemonade out of the lemons that life can throw at you.

Without wanting to sound unkind, the tone of the article suggests that you would rather focus on complaining about your situation in the hope that you might get your way in the end. It’s not going to happen now. Keep your options open, your skills as a lawyer can be applied to a multitude of different fields which puts you at a huge advantage over most candidates in the job market, especially now. Not that many people end up in the job they dreamed of or even trained for; it happens but that’s life. I’m sure you can make a success of yourself if you continue to work as hard as you must have done to study and qualify.

I wish you the best of luck.



As a recently qualified architect in the same position, I’m appalled by the remarks in the comments section here. Before I’m labelled a “scrounger” too, I was employed full time for the past five years, before switching offices in March for a promotion. A lot of you should feel ashamed. Have a little respect for your profession and sympathy for the people trying to make a career in it. No wonder most people think lawyers are arrogant, self entitled, see you next Tuesdays! For those ridiculing the OP I hope at some point you’re able to reflect, inform yourself with regards to the current employment crisis and perhaps draw on some of your experience to make helpful suggestions.


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