Only four per cent of young lawyers are interested in working on legal aid cases, according to a new survey.
The Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division interviewed 630 legal professionals to find out what challenges they faced. The resulting research identified several factors which could contribute to such a low number of lawyers wanting to take on legal aid work.
Firstly, there has been a significant rise in the cost of a lawyer’s education. The survey found that 61 per cent of respondents had spent over £20,000 on higher education. In 2013, only 35 per cent had spent as much.
With increased debt, two thirds of young lawyers place a higher priority on earning money in the short term than their long term career goals.
A substantial number of respondents, 79 per cent, did work experience in the legal sector in order to boost their CVs. However, this appears to have presented further problems. Thirty-seven per cent of those who took on such work said they were not compensated for expenses such as travel. A third of respondents claimed that such jobs had actually put them in further debt.
Chair of the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division Sophia Dirir said the research was indicative of “the effects of university tuition fee hikes and legal aid cuts on the future of the legal profession and the justice system”.
She added that the cuts to legal aid would “ultimately deprive vulnerable members of the public of access to justice”.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen echoed Dirir’s sentiment. He warned that the survey “paints a grim picture of the future of legal aid”.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 made dramatic cuts to the availability of legal aid in an attempt to reduce costs. This included almost all private family law cases. Legal aid is still available in cases involving domestic violence but the allegation has to be proven to a reasonable standard before the parties can qualify.