Large City law firms are clubbing together to pay for the training costs of people working in social welfare law – whether as paralegals, chartered legal executives or apprentices – who want to become solicitors.
Thirteen firms, all members of the City of London Law Society, have signed up so far to the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund, raising over £155,000 to support at least 16 trainees in the first year of the scheme.
To qualify for funding, applicants need to be working for “low-income, disadvantaged communities” on a wide range of cases from housing, debt and benefits to immigration and family work, as well as crime.
The money covers Solicitors Qualifying Exam course and exam fees with the training provider BARBRI, which is part of the initiative.
The Young Legal Aid Lawyers Group, Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Law Centres Network are also involved.
Law firms contribute at least £10,000 over a two-year period. The current list, which may increase, consists of Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, White & Case, Eversheds Sutherland, Clyde & Co, Ashurst, Macfarlanes, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Travers Smith and Trowers & Hamlin.
The charitable fund of the City of London Solicitors’ Company is also contributing to the scheme.
Ellie Reeves MP, the shadow solicitor-general, described the new fund as “an excellent initiative that will help aspiring solicitors from all backgrounds to qualify as social welfare lawyers, ensuring that people who care deeply about public welfare will be able to begin their legal careers without worrying about costs”.
She went on: “I am proud to offer the fund my support and I encourage as many firms as possible to get involved.”
Speaking in September, Ms Reeves, a former barrister, said the publicly funded side of the legal profession was “losing a talent pool of bright, young lawyers” to big City law firms because of the cost of qualification.
She said the legal aid sector had been “largely excluded” from government financial support during the pandemic
Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society, commented: “This initiative will help rebalance a small part of the access to justice challenge – by ensuring people stay in social welfare legal work, and helping them gain the education and qualifications they need to act effectively as social welfare solicitors.
“This is a really good addition to efforts being made by many to ensure those in need have adequate legal representation when they most need it.”
The Justice First Fellowship, founded by the Legal Education Foundation since 2014, works in a slightly different way to the new fund though it shares the same aim of improving the supply of social welfare law solicitors.
Candidates, who must have passed the legal practice course, apply to a host organisation, such as a law centre or firm, for a fully funded training contract during which they work on a project to improve access to justice and potentially provide an income stream for the host organisation.
They must be able to demonstrate a commitment to social welfare law, rather than already working in the sector.
The fellowship receives funding from a wide range of charities and commercial law firms, as well as the Legal Education Foundation.