An initiative has been launched by the Access to Justice Foundation (AJF) to help pay the salaries of trainee social welfare law solicitors.
The Supporting Social Justice Solicitors (SSJS) programme aims to ease the problem of staff retention and ensure a “constant pipeline” of solicitors committed to social welfare work.
The programme is aimed at those already working in the sector as advice workers, case workers or paralegals whose Solicitors Qualifying Exam course and exam fees are funded by the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund (SWSQF).
The fund was launched in December 2021 by the City of London Law Society, training provider BARBRI and Young Legal Aid Lawyers.
The SSJS will help fund the salaries of fund recipients through the two years of their qualifying work experience.
Davina Patel, senior development officer at the AJF, said one of the “biggest barriers” for social welfare providers was staff retention.
“We hope this will be a way for them to increase capacity and not worry so much about staff retention, so they can think more innovatively about the future.”
Ms Patel said the aim was to ensure a “constant pipeline” of solicitors committed to social welfare work, with the cost-of-living crisis having put further pressure on recruitment into social welfare law, which tended to be low paid.
At the same time, advice agencies were reporting a “doubling of need”, as more people were unable to pay legal fees.
The AJF said that, having contributed £100,000 to the SSJS programme itself, it was aiming to reach a total of £500,000 through donations, partnerships and sponsorships.
The programme would support social mobility by “offering a route to qualification in social welfare law for those who may not have access otherwise”.
“SWSQF cohort members often have lived experience of marginalisation and a direct connection with their communities, enabling them to identify and address specific barriers to justice.
“Practising social welfare law is not only about making a difference but also creating a viable career option for junior lawyers passionate about helping those in need.
“The SSJS programme addresses the challenge of recruitment and retention faced by frontline advice charities, offering consistent and sustainable funding.”
Patrick McCann, co-founder of the SWSQF, said: “If we are to provide access to justice to the most vulnerable members of society in England and Wales, we must retain legal representatives.”
Mr McCann said the SSJS programme would “help retain our talented SWSQF cohort members within the social welfare sector by raising funds to supplement the low salaries our members typically receive”.