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 a housing law Paralegal who can’t afford basic necessities

icon_9359I am a 26 year old housing law Paralegal earning £24,300 pa.

My working hours vary from 8.45am to 5pm and 11.45am to 8pm.  I usually get up before dawn to make the slog on public transport to work, arriving 30 minutes early to catch up on notes I didn’t manage to type up the night before. I am then available to assist new clients for half a day and run my existing caseload for the other half.  I do housing law and so I help to defend possession proceedings, assist homeless clients and try to prevent unlawful evictions.

I work under a Civil Legal Advice contract with the Legal Aid Agency. This means all our clients contact us over the phone and all casework is conducted over the phone. My clients are predominately vulnerable members of society and most have a disability of some sort and all are eligible for legal aid. My work is very rewarding and I love what I do, but it is so much hard work.  With vulnerable clients come demanding clients, especially when their home is at risk.  As a phone-based service, this also throws up a number of problems as it is so much harder to build trust and relationships, but we manage.  Getting a phone call from a client to say the hearing was successful and they are not being evicted, or a letter from a council to say that they have accepted they have a duty to accommodate our client, makes it all worth while.

I took out a large bank loan to fund my Legal Practice Course (which you have to do to become a Solicitor). My parents are working class (my mum has actually been made redundant) so there was no financial support from home.  I now have to repay back my loan at such high monthly installments that I afford only necessities and cannot afford to apply for a training contract within the next four years as I would earn a lot less than I do now (around £16,500). To take this cut would mean that I risk bankruptcy. By the time I get paid on a Wednesday, my bank account is empty.

I am worried about the cuts to legal aid because I may face redundancy. If I lose my job I will eventually be made bankrupt as few other paralegal jobs pay this much. This will stop me from ever qualifying as a legal aid Solicitor.

Coins designed by Timur Zima from the Noun Project

I am a paralegal earning £21k to assist vulnerable immigration detainees

icon_4259I am a paralegal at a legal aid firm of solicitors, earning £21,000 pa.

My firm represents people detained in immigration detention centres and those serving time in prison. We assist clients to challenge their ongoing or past periods of unlawful detention. We also assist prisoners to progress through their sentence, helping them with parole reviews and sentencing planning issues so that they can  reintegrate into the community on release. As well as helping with all the legal aspects of the case, we also need to ensure that clients have suitable accommodation and receive support for their needs. The remit of prison law has recently been dramatically reduced by the cuts to legal aid, but it is important to ensure that access to justice does not stop at the prison gates through quality legal service.

There’s quite often no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in our department! We help very vulnerable people to be released from immigration detention, including those suffering from psychotic mental illnesses and pregnant women. This can mean that one minute you are in the office preparing a bundle of papers for court, and the next you are helping a client find his way to sheltered accommodation.

I started out my career in legal aid working for minimum wage. At the same time as working, I was studying and struggling to support myself financially through the Legal Practice Course (which you have to take to become a solicitor). Although my financial situation is not as bad now, you still feel like you make a significant personal and financial sacrifice to work in this sector.

In my opinion, the legal aid cuts will mean that vulnerable people will not be able to seek redress for past and present wrongdoings by the state. To me, this goes against the principle that “when the poor cannot afford good lawyers, good lawyers must afford the poor”.

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