updated on 13 September 2018
From early on in my law degree I knew that the corporate world wasn’t for me, despite the cuts brought in by LASPO and many other barriers to becoming a legal aid lawyer. I could not be happier having landed a training contract at Ealing Law Centre, after a year working at South West London Law Centre in a non-legal role. I wanted to share the reasons why I’m so passionate about this area of law and why you should apply for a Justice First Fellowship if the following intrigues you:
I am unashamedly one of those annoying people who loves their job. It’s so interesting. The people, the courts, the range of areas – when people come to you with clustered problems that require some unravelling before you can solve their legal issue, it is satisfying to help them take steps to work things through.
It builds your skillset
Working for a small organisation is very hands on and you can find yourself getting involved with fundraising and other areas very quickly. Not only is there scope to build your knowledge outside of the law, but often you take on responsibility very quickly – under close supervision, of course. This allows you to build your skills while doing casework, which is invaluable experience. This goes for law centres, legal advice charities and small firms alike. If you like to get involved from the get go, have a curious nature and enjoy a role that is not always strictly defined, you’ll thrive in this environment.
It’s a friendly sector. Most who go into legal aid are ‘people persons’ – though of course it is good to have a wide range of personalities – and it is a really supportive environment to train in. I often ask my colleagues for advice and am always given the guidance and opportunities needed to learn as much as possible. We may not get invited to any boat parties in the City, but when we hit the pub together it’s always a lot of fun. Plus there are always drinks after training seminars when chambers are hosting, so I have been known to be a prosecco socialist now and again.
It’s a challenge
It is extremely hard taking instruction from a client sobbing in front of you about the threat of losing their home, and even harder to translate the issues that they feel are most important within the law as representations to a judge. Legal aid lawyers work with the most vulnerable members of society; people who may have never had someone on their side and are mistrusting of any authority. The challenge is to gain someone’s trust so that they work with you – establishing that always feels like an accomplishment even before you’re in front of the judge. When the judge/local authority/other side agree with you or come round to your position, it’s even more satisfying.
This work is valued
I didn’t go into legal aid for the money, I would be misguided if I did, however I am able go home every day knowing that I’ve done my bit to make the world slightly better for someone. Most of the time, we all have down days of course. Though many people may balk at the lower wages and lack of bonuses, it is enough to live and enjoy myself in London and many of my friends work in arts jobs or for charities earning much the same. Of course, they didn’t fork out over £15,000 for an LPC (which I did part time thanks to a scholarship and masters loan from the government) – but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about my career so far. It’s cheesy, but every time you help get a family housed or a client gives you an elated and inappropriate hug at court, you get a feeling that money can’t buy.
Ealing Law Centre, along with 13 other organisations, are taking applications for training contract positions to start in 2019. Apply here as applications close on 17 September 2018.