According to new research commissioned by the Law Society, only seven percent of trainee solicitors and seventeen percent of law students envisaged working in legal aid.
The Law Society president, Peter Williamson said the study of 1,522 trainee solicitors and 2,123 law students graphically indicated “the risk that there may not be enough legal aid lawyers in the future to provide advice to some of the most vulnerable members of society”. He will be giving oral evidence to the Constitutional Affairs Committee today. “We call on the Government to tackle this problem on a number of fronts including consideration of financial support for students and a new contract for legal aid practitioners that offers greater career prospects and security,” he said.
The survey revealed that half of trainees and 59 per cent of law students said they would work in legal aid “if all things were equal”, but they were deterred by debt and a perception that a career in legal aid held few opportunities.
The Bar Council will tell the Committee that they have “widespread evidence” of barristers “shunning legally aided work after cuts of 20 per cent to 50 per cent in pay rates were introduced”. “Barristers are angry and I can well understand their anger,” said Bar chairman, Stephen Irwin QC. “At the junior end of the Bar, fixed fee schemes for family and criminal cases have led to dramatic cuts in pay. The earnings of barristers doing public work are now at or below those of many other public service employees doing less specialised or stressful work.”