Legal Aid: The least glamorous arm of the welfare state

The legal profession is not known for its activism. Rather the general populous assumes that its members are conservative by nature and disinclined towards radical change. So when a former Conservative MP, turned member of the Bar Sir Ivan Lawrence QC, tells a thousand-strong demonstration by barristers and solicitors that he is ashamed of the government’s destruction of the justice system, we ought perhaps to prick up our ears and take note.

Sir Ivan was speaking last week at a gathering of lawyers who marched on Parliament to protest the cuts to the legal aid system. In this particular instance, the legal profession’s outrage was aimed at cuts to legal aid in criminal justice cases, but we have written recently about the chaos being caused in the family courts by cuts to legal aid provision in that area too. For some commentators and protestors, the future of the British legal system, and the principles it has upheld for centuries, are genuinely enduring a profound and substantial threat.

We live in an age where, as individuals, we are asked to support a fresh cause, or challenge a new injustice, on an almost daily basis. The age on of the online petition, of twitter campaigns, and pressure being applied via the pages of facebook, is upon us. While we here at PFL would applaud active citizenship of the kind promoted through social media and beyond, we also recognise that some fights are just, well, more glamorous than others. It is hard for the legal profession to garner sympathy from the general populous; we are perceived as living well from the profits of our work, of having a (relatively) easy time of it. But that isn’t an entirely accurate picture. Rates of legal aid have been frozen since 1995, having a direct impact on profit margins for nearly two decades. Barristers earnings have fallen dramatically. The Guardian article quotes one young barrister directly. Shahida Begum worked 70 to 80 hours a week last year and took home £19,000 to show for it. That is up to half the average pay of a teacher in a primary school, and a fraction of what your GP is earning. While we can acknowledge that many others in society are earning much less still, there is truth in the argument that if working in the legal profession becomes any less attractive, we will, as a nation, struggle to maintain a rigorous and fully working legal system. Our belief in fair trials and due process will be meaningless if no one is left to uphold those principles.

Here at Prince Family Law we work hard at offering good value to our clients. Our professionalism is underpinned by a belief in making sure the system works to serve. We understand the politics and policy behind the changes to the legal aid system, and we are working to find new ways of working that will meet the best interests of our clients into the future. And we would urge our readers to withhold their judgement of the, as it often perceived, fat cat legal profession. We see nothing of ourselves in this description, and are sure that any dealings you have with us will unpick that myth too.