Scheme launched to improve social mobility and access to justice in legal aid sector

updated on 13 December 2021

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A national fund designed to boost social mobility within the legal profession, address the recruitment and retention crisis, and ultimately improve access to justice has been launched.

City of London Law Society (CLLS), BARBRI and Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) have developed the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund (SWSQF) 2022 “to provide financial assistance to aspiring solicitors working in social welfare law for organisations serving disadvantaged communities”. The SWSQF will provide funding for BARBRI’s Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) preparation course and SQE1 and SQE2 assessments.

The following 13 City law firms are working with CLLS, BARBRI and YLAL:

Following “decades of fee cuts”, legal aid and social welfare law is currently in a recruitment, retention and succession crisis with the fund aiming to provide the next generation of qualified social welfare solicitors. YLAL recognised that a lack of career progression is one reason many junior lawyers leave the profession and the cost of qualifying and low wages mean candidates with no independent means are unable to fund their professional training.

While the introduction of the SQE promised to reduce the cost of qualifying somewhat, candidates within the legal aid sector will continue to be affected by this training cost.

The new fund aims to maximise the flexibility that comes with replacing the traditional training contract with qualifying work experience and support candidates working as advice workers, case workers and paralegals on their route to qualification.

Chris Minnoch, CEO of LAPG said: “One of the most damaging effects of fee cuts is on the ability to recruit new staff and provide the level of support required to retain staff. This includes being able to bring through the next generation of legal aid lawyers – to help them to qualify and to ensure there is clear progression and an attractive career path. Our members are consistently telling us that they need more help in this area because the legal aid scheme simply doesn’t provide them with the resources they need to do so. This scheme will be of enormous benefit to our member organisations and to those seeking to qualify into social welfare law. It will also greatly benefit clients – many of whom will not be able to access the legal help they so desperately need without initiatives such as this to address the recruitment and retention crisis engulfing the legal aid sector.”

Candidates can apply to the SWSQF now – applications close at midnight on 17 January 2022.