I am a housing solicitor with over 5 years experience earning £27,000 a year to help the homeless

noun_41325Office hours are 9.30am-5.30pm but I’m generally in the office from 8.30 through to 7 on a normal day – or much later if a new urgent case has come in or a client needs emergency help. This can happen for instance, where a new homeless client with children has been turned away from a local authority homeless department for some spurious reason and is facing street homelessness that night. Luckily once I’ve sent threatened legal action the local authority will usually back down and agree to provide emergency housing to the family, but I often wonder what happens to those families who aren’t lucky enough to find a legal aid solicitor who can do this work them on the same day.  If the authority doesn’t see sense, or is just very bad at responding to correspondence (it happens) then with the help of a barrister we’ll make an application to the out-of-hours judge at the High Court. This can involve staying in the office until after 10pm sometimes to make sure that the council provides emergency housing after the injunction has been made.

Generally my day involves meeting with clients, writing to the other side to progress a case, instructing barristers and sending them papers to represent clients at hearings, drafting statements to support client cases and so on. The type of work is to do with housing conditions, preventing people from being evicted, enforcing their social welfare rights and trying to make sure clients have a safe, suitable home to live in. Aside from client work I also have to deal with lots of Legal Aid Agency correspondence usually asking for more information from clients who although are on Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance are now expected to explain credits as little as £10 going in and out of their bank account.

There is then all the billing work to do to make sure that I actually get paid for the casework. This can involve appealing against Legal Aid Agency decisions to reduce or not pay me at all for a case; or negotiating with the other side who had been ordered to pay my client’s legal costs. This is just as important as the client work of course, because unless I do this the firm will go out of business and there will be nobody around to provide that legal advice and assistance to clients.

I am quite lucky in that I was part of the last year that didn’t have to pay any tuition fees for university, so I don’t have a massive amount of debt to pay off. I can definitely survive on my salary even though I live in the most expensive city in the world! It would be nice to do a bit more than just “survive” particularly when I compare myself to what other lawyers with my experience are earning…

On-going cuts to legal aid will ultimately mean that there will be fewer and less well-qualified lawyers around to provide the crucial advice and assistance to really vulnerable people. This will lead to knock-on costs for society, including on the health service and the courts, but it is a warning which the general public (and certainly the politicians) do not seem ready to listen to.

The number of people calling for legal advice is increasing, but the number that qualify for legal aid is decreasing.

noun_33370_ccI’m a paralegal working in immigration and public law.  My days starts at 8am (in the office, computer on and emails pinging).

The phone rings. I recognise the number. I have a client that rings about 5 times a day. I know many colleagues who have similar clients. He’s very unwell. He’s detained under immigration powers and desperately wants to go home. He paid previous private  solicitors who took the money he borrowed from several friends and disappeared. He’s having difficulty trusting us.

I finish the call. I look at my to do list. Sometimes ‘leave office on time ‘ is on my to do list. It isn’t today because I’ve got too much to do. I need to write representations on an asylum claim to the Home Office. My client is gay and he can not return to his country of origin because homosexuality is a crime there, punishable by the death penalty. Also on my task list for the day is to request a bail address from the Home Office, so my client in detention can apply for bail. I also have to chase the Legal Aid Agency on funding applications so that we can actually be paid for the work that we do!

My day has not finished but the space available has! I leave the office at about 6.30pm. When I get home, I start working again for an hour or so.

I have not even started paying off my student loan because I don’t earn enough. I also have debt towards my Legal Practice Course fees. Living costs in London are high; it costs me over £200 per month just to travel to London. I earn £17,000, but for the number of hours that I do, it works out as less than minimum wage. I earnt more working in retail.

Everyday the  number of people calling and needing legal advice is increasing and yet the number of people qualifying  for legal aid is decreasing. However, the Home Office always has money for their legal advice.

If these cuts continue, vulnerable witnesses will be left in the hands of the inexperienced.

noun_55084_cc I am a pupil barrister earning approximately £12,000. There is no typical day in pupillage. I’ve spent roughly two months each following barristers to court in Crime, Family and Civil before I take on my own cases. If someone needs research doing or documents drafting at the last minute on any given area of law, I’m eager to do it – whether it takes 10 minutes or 10 hours, it can really make a difference to somebody’s liberty and life, which is why I came into law in the first place.

I’m generally in Chambers for about 8.30, at the earliest I’ll leave at 5, but often I’ll stay much later – and I don’t even have my own cases yet! The amount I learn from the more experienced members of chambers is incredible, and I’m worried that if they go (because they can’t afford to stay), there will be no-one to do the really heavy weight cases – the murder trials, the care cases involving serious sexual abuse of children or the employment cases of serious racial discrimination.

Vulnerable witnesses need to be questioned with sensitivity and respect, and both of those come with experience, which I don’t have right now. If these cuts continue, those expert lawyers will leave, and those vulnerable witnesses will be left in the hands of the inexperienced, the under-trained and the petrified. That’s not justice, not for anyone.

I’ve always wanted to be a criminal advocate, but I’m having to seriously reconsider, I  couldn’t survive on a solely criminal practice and I’ll definitely be taking on any and all cases that solicitors brief me on. I’m struggling to survive on my pupillage award – I need a new pair of shoes as mine have holes in – so they’re on my birthday list, and I have long since given up feeling guilty when my parents give me a tenner when I go home as it means I can eat meat the next week! I couldn’t afford to do pupillage if I had taken out a professional loan to do the BPTC – I’m worried that the best candidates won’t come to the Criminal Bar because they simply cannot afford to do so.

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 a pupil barrister who can’t afford to buy any practitioner textbooks

icon_32025I am a 29 year old pupil barrister awarded £14,000 to train in immigration and asylum, employment, housing, and family law.

There is no typical day at work in my job, but generally I will be following someone to court or doing paperwork which includes research and drafting advice, statements of case, grounds of appeal, grounds of judicial review, and skeleton arguments. In the second half of my pupillage I will have my own cases. So, with the support of my supervisor, I will be representing people in court or in tribunals. Our supervisors are not paid any extra to train us.

Nearly all of the clients my chambers serves are on a low income and many are facing a huge range of difficulties. Among many cases, I have helped a 16 year old boy with a tough family background charged with drug dealing offences. He got a second chance through a stringent community order rather than detention, thanks to great work from probation and a sympathetic judge as well as good advocacy (it’s great when the team works to try to help kids!). I also assisted a factory worker who suffered years of vicious bullying. In that case the judge heavily criticised the firm for allowing a culture of “gay banter” in the workplace. I also assisted an Afghan asylum seeker who would have been seriously hurt or killed if sent back to Afghanistan. The judge agreed, and he now has asylum.

Not one of these people would have received the protection due to them under the law and under a basic sense of humanity without the help of their legal advisors and representatives. These are cases where the stakes are incredibly high – they literally have life-ruining consequences if things go wrong. This is what legal aid solicitors and barristers work to prevent.

It’s not possible to survive on my pupillage award alone. I’ve often gone hungry and am unable to buy anything but the most basic necessities or cope with any emergency spending requirements (e.g. my bike got stolen, and I have never been able to replace it). I still haven’t been able to afford any practitioners texts, my wig and gown, or to start paying back my student loan.

I believe the cuts to legal aid will fundamentally undermine access to justice and the rule of law. They strike at the very heart of what is good in our society – the protection afforded to the rights of the most vulnerable.

Book designed by Alex Auda Samora from the Noun Project

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 earn £14kpa as a Paralegal representing people with mental health problems

icon_2230I am a 24 year old paralegal. I am responsible for assisting clients detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (also known as clients who have been “sectioned”) and assist them in applying for their discharge from hospital. I represent them at Tribunal hearings and other various types of hearings/meetings.

My clients are typically some of the most vulnerable members of society and they will often see me as being able to give them extra support, as a social worker would. They ask me for assistance with a variety of things which I simply cannot assist with due to limits of legal aid funding.

My day usually starts at around 8.30 but no later than 9.00. A typical day will involve managing a number of cases. I often spend time out of the office taking instructions from the client as well as reading reports, liaising with various professionals and representing clients at hearings. I usually finish my day at about 6.00pm.

My poor salary of £14,000 pa was described to me as “competitive” when it is effectively just minimum wage. I am baffled by my poor salary given the work that I do. I live in one of the UK’s most expensive towns and pay for my own rent and bills. My parents cannot afford to support me so I live from pay packet to pay packet, often worrying about money. I have a £2,000 overdraft from university that I have been unable to repay due to having no disposable income after having paid living expenses.

Furthermore, I had to take out a £10,000 loan to cover the cost of the Legal Practice Course and the 5 year repayment plan is due to start this summer. This will cost me over £200 per month and will leave me with hardly any money to live on. Consequently I am scared as to how I am going to survive.

The cuts to legal aid worry me as they are putting a career in legal aid out of the reach of more and more talented individuals.

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 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 26 year old Paralegal who can’t afford to move out my parents’ home

icon_26189I am a 26 year old Paralegal. I work for a public law team earning £14,060 pa. Public law involves any claim against a public body, such as a local authority or the prison service (these cases are known as “judicial review”).

A typical work day for me can include visiting clients in order to take instructions and provide advice. I often have to travel out to visit the client if they are in custody or are unable to travel to the office due to mental and/or physical disabilities and other complex needs. I need to communicate complex areas of law to often very vulnerable and distressed clients, which  requires a great deal of understanding and means spending additional time with them.

I might then conduct research in diverse areas of law – from Parole Board criteria for the release of life sentence prisoners to a local authority’s policies in relation to Special Guardianship payments. It takes experience and analysis to apply this research to the facts of a client’s case.

I’ll typically spend some time drafting and sending formal letters to the defendant, completing legal aid funding applications, preparing bundles of papers to issue (start) a case in court, and/or drafting instructions to barristers.

The kind of firm I work for, practicing public law, does not generally pay for the large fees law students have to pay to take professional law courses. This is in contrast to many corporate firms which can afford to sponsor prospective trainees. As a result, I am in approximately £28,000 of debt consisting of an £8,000 private bank loan and £20,000 of student debt.  Given my low salary I am not currently in a position to make student loan repayments but I do make bank loan repayments of £139 a month and will do so for the next 8 years. As a result of this I am unable, at the age of 26, to move out of my parents’ home. I simply cannot afford to live independently whilst also maintaining ownership of my car which is a requirement for my role.

The government’s cuts to legal aid will be so damaging because they will leave already vulnerable clients who have already been disproportionately affected by other cuts, and who often have very difficult life circumstances, without good quality legal recourse for legitimate grievances.

House designed by Lil Squid from the Noun Project