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Aspiring lawyers divided over career in legal aid

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40% of students would not consider publicly funded work, new poll shows, as legal aid group launches survey to find out why

Students are divided over a career in legal aid, the results of a Legal Cheek poll have shown.

Four out of ten students that responded to our recent poll said they would not consider qualifying as a legal aid lawyer. Among some of the reasons they shared with us, a key concern appears to be money.

“With £18k of student debt by the time I graduate, I need to get onto a decent earning path!” one student responded to our poll which received over 770 votes, whilst another simply put, “Because I like money, mainly!”

The legal aid system is vastly underfunded — 2013 legislation dramatically slashed government spending on legal aid. It removed whole areas of practice from the scope of legal aid and cut legal aid lawyers’ fees.

Half of all legal advice centres have closed since LASPO’s introduction, recent government statistics have shown, with the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) group recently warning: “the sector is on its knees”.

Keen to find out more about why students are motivated (or not) to pursue a career in legal aid, and upon discovering the average age of a legal aid lawyer is mid-fifties, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG) has compiled an online survey, which can be completed here.

Have your say: The 2021 legal aid student survey

LAPG wants to hear from students about the barriers that exist and how legal aid work can be made more accessible. It’s also wanting to gather perspectives on whether legal education prepares students for legal aid work and how it can be improved for those seeking to enter the sector.

YLAL found in 2018 more than half of its members earned less than £25,000 a year, which is a fraction of the mega salaries law firms in the Square Mile pay their junior lawyers, as indicated by our Firms Most List. There are also known to be few training opportunities available in the legal aid sector and those there are, aren’t considered to be well paid.

“The current system as it stands today places a massive burden on legal aid lawyers, whose responsibilities are often extended to support beyond just the law, without the pay to match,” wrote one student respondent to our poll. “Until the legal aid system is reformed to increase accessibility and funding to the individual, it is no surprise that the number of legal aid lawyers is diminishing.”

Data from the LAPG survey will be analysed by leading academics over the summer and the findings published in the autumn. It follows another recent survey run by the group for legal aid practitioners and together, the data will provide a base to underpin policy work relating to legal aid provision in the future.

Take the 2021 legal aid student survey here.

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