I am a newly qualified solicitor practising in criminal defence and prison law. My salary is £19,000.
Depending on what is in the diary I may be leaving my house at any time from 6am onwards for prison visits, disciplinary hearings or Parole Board hearings. These visits are very regular and take up significant time due to extensive travelling. If I am office based for the day, I usually arrive at 8:30am to take advantage of the quiet time before the phone starts ringing.
It is really difficult to describe a ‘typical day’ as matters and client issues come up often. During the day I may be called to cover a police station attendance, an urgent remand court hearing or cover for colleagues who have been called away themselves. It is not unusual to have to cover appointments or see clients when they attend the office outside of a pre-arranged appointment or cover client meetings when the assigned solicitor is otherwise engaged. This typically means having to get ‘on top of the papers’ in a very quick space of time to be able to take instructions and provide solid advice. On a quiet day, which has run according to my diary, I am able to leave the office between 5pm – 5:30pm. The out of hours call rota for the police stations, late night client meetings or at home preparation for the following day usually keeps me working into the evening from the relative comfort of my dining table.
I currently earn £19,000 which was increased from my training salary of £17,000. With this, I have to run a house and a car which is vital for my work. I am compensated on a low level for mileage but this is paid in arrears and out of office hours travelling time (e.g. setting off at 7:30am for a 9am start) is unpaid and flexi-working is not possible. I have credit card debt which is slowly being chipped away at but it is difficult to make ends meet with the rising costs of living. It is not unusual to have a fridge that only has milk and cheese in and because I am tired, I often don’t shop for groceries. The risks of buying a big grocery shop and being unable to afford to fuel my car is a very real worry.
I love my job, I love the clients, and despite the problems, I (generally) like how busy I am. The pay however is difficult to stomach and I am currently applying for prosecution roles where my salary will effectively double. It is not all about the money, but I sometimes feel that I would qualify for legal aid myself.
Without sounding selfish, the pay for legal aid lawyers is forcing us out of the profession and is unsustainable. If that continues to happen then our clients will suffer. I do not know of any legal aid lawyer who entered legal aid practice for the riches, but struggling to make ends meet leaves a sour taste in the mouth. We all want to help our clients and I am deeply saddened by having to leave criminal defence legal aid work, but it is now becoming a financial decision.