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City law firms to fund aspiring social welfare lawyers through the SQE

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£145k pledged so far to cover exam prep and fees

An alliance of legal charities and corporate law firms have launched a new fund to allow people to qualify as social welfare lawyers for free.

The Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund targets people already working in social welfare law but who aren’t legally qualified. Successful applicants will have their SQE prep course fees with BARBRI and exam costs covered.

The idea is that people with the potential to become solicitors advising on welfare rights aren’t held back by their income or background.

The City of London Law Society — which says it represents over 14,000 solicitors through individual and corporate memberships — is behind the scheme. Also on board are the Legal Aid Practitioners Group, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, Law Centres Network and some City law firms.

Twelve firms are already involved and have so far put £145,000 in the pot for the first year of the scheme. That’s enough to put 16 people through their solicitor exams.

The firms are: Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Eversheds Sutherland, Freshfields, Linklaters, Macfarlanes, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Travers Smith, Trowers & Hamlins and White & Case.

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Ellie Reeves MP, the shadow solicitor general, said:

“The Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund is an excellent initiative that will help aspiring solicitors from all backgrounds to qualify as social welfare lawyers, ensuring that people who care deeply about public welfare will be able to begin their legal careers without worrying about costs. I am proud to offer the Fund my support and I encourage as many firms as possible to get involved.”

The Law Society of England and Wales, which has published research showing that 78% of the population do not have access to a welfare legal aid provider, also welcomed the move.

Applications are open until 17 January 2022.

A separate scheme for would-be welfare lawyers who have passed the Legal Practice Course, run by the Legal Education Foundation, has been running for the past eight years.

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