Legal Aid firms can rarely afford to promote themselves to potential trainees in the same way as corporate practices. Firms of solicitors must tender and contract for legally aided civil and criminal work. Thus, law students do need to be determined when researching the work undertaken by lawyers in this area, and in identifying where and when contracts might arise.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012 and large areas of civil legal work were removed from the scope of Legal Aid. Areas removed included Clinical Negligence, Consumer Law, Immigration & Asylum Law not involving accommodation or detention, most areas of Family Law, Debt Law not involving potential homelessness, Welfare Benefits, Employment Law & some Education Law areas.
Related work experience and evidence of a commitment to the client groups served by Legal Aid is vital. You might consider:
Voluntary work in a charity or support agency working with the relevant client groups. In addition to the Law School’s own pro bono network, Manchester Met Volunteering are part of the Students’ Union and can provide students with a variety of volunteering opportunities with a wide range of charities or other not-for-profit organisations. Further information and to search for opportunities can be found at the Students Union Volunteering Hub.
Work experience in the government agencies that ‘set the rules’ e.g. Jobcentre Plus, Child Support Agency, Crown Prosecution Service, local authority housing department, debt collection department of a utility (gas, electricity, water) or credit card company.
Even observing cases in the Magistrates or Crown Courts can provide useful insights and potential contacts.
Initially, you may only be offered menial tasks such as photocopying or filing, but all experience provides a useful insight into the range of clients and cases you could expect to deal with. It will put you in contact with professional staff who can advise on your CV, suggest other people you could talk to or approach for more work experience, provide useful sources of further information or furnish you with a reference in the future.
Very few Legal Aid firms recruit trainee solicitors far in advance, most firms recruit as and when they have vacancies. Some firms never advertise vacancies and simply select students to interview from speculative applications. Only the bigger firms tend to advertise 1 or more years in advance.
In some cases, unpaid work experience during your studies, perhaps 1-2 days per week, or a 1-2 week placement during the holidays, will provide a “foot in the door” to the offer of a permanent paralegal position or training contract. Some firms will offer a training contract after typically 6-24 months working as a paralegal. So work as a paralegal or legal clerk can very much be a way in to a training contract. Although vacancies are not frequently advertised, the following sources may be helpful:
For speculative applications, use the “Find a Solicitor” search function on the Law Society’s website. This indicates the areas of law undertaken by the firm and will help you determine the areas of Legal Aid work they are contracted to undertake. Bear in mind that some firms combine Legal Aid with private client work.
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