I work 12-15 hours per day to battle for my clients’ liberty – for £20,000 pa

noun_33418_ccI am a 24 year old Pupil (trainee) barrister earning approximately £20,000 to practise criminal law.

I represent people from all walks of life who find themselves charged with a crime appearing in the Magistrates’ Court. A majority of the people I represent have suffered significant hardship; most have mental health problems and many have battled with drug addiction, homelessness, and other issues.

I am in court every day, and no two days are the same. Typically, I spend significant time with the client, advising them on trial prospects, or likely sentence, or chances of bail. Often the Crown Prosecution Service will not have done what they should to prepare the case as they are short on resources. Sometimes I am faced with cynical judges or magistrates and have to persuade them to take the right decision. I am frequently battling for my client’s liberty.

I always arrive at court by 9am. The length of time I spend at court depends on all manner of factors, but if I am done before lunch I will usually be sent to another court in the afternoon. When I get back to the office I need to do the follow up work from the hearing. At about 5.30pm I will be sent my papers for the following day. This may require many hours of preparation. On average I work 12-13 hours a day, though at least once a week that will be more like 15. I work at least one day of the weekend (courts are open on a Saturday!), and sometimes both Saturday and Sunday.

Payments for Magistrates’ Court work is extremely low: about £40-£60 per hearing or slightly more for a full trial. Out of this I pay for my own travel and income tax. Including all the time spent on preparation, this usually works out at far less than minimum wage. It is almost impossible to survive in London on these rates. I am lucky that at the moment I am paid a pupillage grant, but once this stops in a few months I will struggle financially. I have £20,000 of student debt to repay. At the moment I don’t earn enough to make repayments, but soon I will have to deduct loan repayments from the little I earn.

The work I do is ensuring the most vulnerable people get proper representation when charged with a crime. The cuts to legal aid mean that I will not be able to continue to do this job and afford to feed myself. As a result of the cuts, more and more people will go unrepresented and will be denied justice due to these cuts.

I am an experienced solicitor working 6 days a week to assist victims of trafficking

icon_31I am a 33 year old Solicitor, with over 5 years’ experience practicing immigration and public law.

I represent vulnerable migrants with applications for permission to stay in the UK and I prepare appeals and High Court challenges against unlawful decisions to refuse those applications by the Home Office. Many of my clients are asylum seekers and victims of trafficking who have been brought to the UK to work in slave-like conditions doing domestic work or prostitution. Most are still coping with the impact of this severe sexual, emotional and physical abuse.

I start work at 10 am but usually finish around 8 pm. During the day I see clients, often for several hours at a time if I am taking statements with an interpreter. Later when the phones stop ringing I prepare representations on behalf of clients to the Home Office and appeal bundles for court.

Unfortunately many of my clients face bad decision making by the Home Office, especially when it comes to the Government’s interpretation of the right to enjoy a private or family life. Thankfully, there is still legal aid to help challenge unlawful refusals in the High Court if necessary. However, I don’t know how we can afford to keep doing this work now the Government has said the funding for all these cases will be “at risk” from the start (e.g. firms might not get paid for some of the work they do if they don’t win permission to proceed at the High Court).

I am very lucky because I have only about £6,000 debt at the moment. My salary is £31,000 pa, which I think is quite good and a lot better than many other junior lawyers I know. However, it doesn’t compare  to the salaries of the Government lawyers I am up against (currently £47,557 for 3 years+ qualification). I also have to work very hard, including at least one day every weekend.

I am seriously concerned about the on-going cuts to legal aid. Getting good results for clients involves investing time in a case, for example, to prepare detailed statements. But it is difficult for the business to stay afloat when you spend a lot of time on cases that are paid at very low legal aid fixed fees. I often do work we don’t get paid for, and the barristers that represent my clients go above and beyond in their preparation. This can’t last with the cuts we have already had, plus the new residence test and the cuts to payment for judicial review which are going to be introduced by the Government shortly. We have already had people crying in our reception as they cannot afford to pay for advice after the cuts that took place in April 2013. These new cuts are a death knell for access to justice for people fighting unlawful decisions by the State.

I am a 28 year old Paralegal who helps disabled adults and children access community care services

icon_31554I am a 28 year old Paralegal earning £17,000 pa practicing community care law.

My typical day starts at 9.30 and should end at 5.30. In practice, I normally work well into the evening and never take a lunch break. There is no pay for overtime I work. I put in the extra time because the workload is so great and because I care about the clients.

We are a very small and specialist team. Our community care clients are all children, vulnerable adults or carers. Most have significant physical and/or learning disabilities, and they are simply trying to access appropriate support from social services. My day is spent taking instructions from clients, which can be challenging as many of our clients have poor mobility and need to be visited at home or have learning difficulties. We liaise with the local authorities involved in an effort to find mutually amicable solutions to our clients’ problems. But often our clients are simply are not receiving the community care to which they are legally entitled. Our main route to challenging a failure by social services to provide care services is by judicial review. This involves a huge amount of work in the very early stages of the case, and we often have to compile considerable medical, occupational therapy, and psychological evidence. Regularly, after proceedings are issued, the matter is swiftly resolved by the local authority.

I also used to run education cases, but in 2013 my firm lost its education legal help franchise following the changes in legislation for legal aid (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012). This has resulted in us having to turn away people who need help with education law as we cannot assist under the legal help scheme and they cannot afford to pay privately. Typical cases may involve university students who have suffered discrimination, or disabled children who are not receiving any or appropriate education.

I am not a fat cat lawyer. I have been working in human rights work since 2008 and currently earn £17,000 pa. I have 5 years of higher education under my belt, years of practical experience and specialist knowledge.  I don’t do the work I do for the money. I do the work because I care about my clients. But if my salary were to be cut, it would not be sustainable for me to keep doing this kind of work, no matter how much I love it.  I am 28 years old and have to live with my parents to make ends meet. I have £12,000 student debt.

I am desperately worried about the proposed changes to judicial review funding. The notion that a solicitor will only be paid if permission stage is reached will be devastating. Not getting to permission stage at court is very often a huge success: it means that the local authority has agreed to act without the case reaching a judge.

Volunteer designed by Stephen Borengasser from the Noun Project

I am a criminal law Trainee working sometimes until 5am

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I am a 28 year old Trainee solicitor. I work in criminal law and I earn £17,500 pa. 

My day starts at 8.45 with a team meeting to discuss our clients; whose in custody in the police station awaiting interview, or a charging decision? Which police station? Which clients are in custody having been remanded to Court? What is in the diary for later? We are allocated prison visits, site visits, voluntary interviews in advance. Sometimes this means dashing out of the meeting clutching papers and scrambling to drive an hour away.

If I am to stay in the office, I will see clients on an hourly basis. Sometimes appointments take the full hour. Most take at least 45 minutes and require a review of the client’s file prior to attendance so I can advise them.  In between this I attend drop-in queries from prospective new clients, and draft statements before the next client arrives. If I am at the police station I regularly miss meals as it can get pretty hectic.

I advise on anything from shoplifting to terrorism, fraud to murder. I represent everyone: foreign nationals, children, vulnerable adults with serious mental illnesses and first time arrestees. I must be able to switch from one case to the next in a matter of seconds. If I am not in the Police Station I am conducting prison visits, working in the Crown Court supporting Counsel (if I can be spared), or attending client file conferences. I rarely finish before 6pm and sometimes attend on clients until 5am. Even then I still have to be in for the team meeting at 8.45!

I get financial help from my family so I can afford to pay my rent and run my car. I would not be able to cope without this, as work expenses are paid retrospectively. Payments to me for meetings out of hours on client files are not received until the client file is billed and the firm gets the money from the Legal Aid Agency.  This means I am constantly out of pocket and regularly skip meals.

I worry that cuts to legal aid will mean that ambitious, intelligent individuals who genuinely care about others will choose alternative careers because their skills are not valued in the low budget criminal justice system the Government is forcing on my clients.  My clients desperately need these skilled, caring people.

Moon designed by Ugur Akdemir from the Noun Project

I am an experienced immigration Solicitor living off my overdraft

icon_14633I am a Solicitor with 4.5 years’ experience post qualification.

I represent vulnerable immigration clients such as victims of trafficking and those detained under immigration powers. The clients I represent are often detained for long periods of time when they cannot be removed from the United Kingdom and where they are unsuitable for detention. I assist them by conducting often complex challenges in the High Court. 

I also supervise a team of 5 other staff. I spend long hours in the office and frequently carry on the work when I get home, at weekends and when on annual leave. The work can be stressful due to the urgency of the work, such as when an injunction is required to prevent an unlawful removal or to secure a person’s release from detention.

I have a student loan of £12,000 and a professional studies loan of £5000, both of which I am still paying off. I started my career as a paralegal with a salary of £14,000 in London. Despite reaching the grand old age of 30 I still live off my overdraft and have no savings.

I am worried about the cuts to legal aid as they will deny justice to scores of vulnerable individuals.

Piggy Bank designed by Stephanie Wauters from the Noun Project

I am a junior criminal barrister taking home £1,000 per month

icon_10320I am a new qualified criminal barrister. I take home approximately £1,000 each month.

My typical day at work involves getting up at dawn, finishing my preparation for trial and travelling to a Court (which is usually an hour or two from my house). When I get to Court, I often have to deal with lack of disclosure or other reasons why the case cannot go ahead.

The cuts are already affecting not only defence but prosecution too. There are simply not enough staff at the Criminal Prosecution Service, and so there are severe delays in documents being disclosed to the defence. The Court is often over-listed with cases  and several matters get adjourned due to lack of Court time. Cuts not only affect the standard of legal representation but also the efficiency of the legal system.

In the event a case goes ahead, having met my client and taken further instructions, I put their case before the court. Many of my clients are extremely vulnerable people who need support and my aim is always to achieve the best possible result for them, whether this is an acquittal or the best sentence available. After an often bruising day in Court I then go back to Chambers and work until late on my next case.

I am lucky because, due to a combination of family support and scholarships, I do not currently have any debt. My income each month is unpredictable, and is too little to enable me to save anything for my future. What is worse is that my earnings potential for the future is no better, which leaves me vulnerable in the event of illness and will make it much harder to start a family.

I think that many talented young lawyers will leave the legal aid profession if further cuts are introduced and this can only impact negatively on the vulnerable clients we represent.

Lawyer designed by Miroslav Kurdov from the Noun Project

I am a newly qualified solicitor regularly working 12 hour days

icon_14894I am a newly qualified solicitor practicing employment and discrimination law. Most of my clients are disabled people who have suffered discrimination at the hands of employers, public bodies, and service providers. My objective is to get them apologies, compensation and/or access to services including transport, housing and welfare benefits. My salary is £24,500 pa.

On a typical day I arrive in the office around 8:30 to start checking through emails. I’ll spend the morning chasing clients, court staff, and solicitors for the opponent to get updates and to conduct negotiations. I will deal with post over lunch, which I eat at my desk while working. In the afternoon I will generally do more taxing work, such as preparing statements and submissions or conducting legal research. Throughout the day I’ll manage my paralegal and provide general supervision to the department as a whole.

Normally I’ll leave the office at 18:00, but at least once a week I work until 20:00. This means my working day varies between 9.5 and 11.5 hours with no lunch break.

Personally, I believe the Government’s cuts to legal aid is an assault on access to justice and therefore on democracy itself. Without lawyers doing the kind of work I do, disabled people would not be able to get effective redress for discrimination.

Worker designed by Juan Pablo Bravo from the Noun Project