“We are honoured to lead YLAL into a new chapter as a dynamic campaigning organisation.”
It was with excitement that, on 20 May 2019, we took the helm of YLAL as a group of three co-chairs. The decision to put ourselves forwards as a chairing team was not one that we took lightly. YLAL’s reputation is an impressive one and looking at its successes to date, we could easily have felt daunted by the challenge of continuing its legacy. However, in building on YLAL’s past achievements, we can draw inspiration from the example set by our predecessors, Katherine Barnes, Oliver Carter and Siobhan Taylor-Ward. It is an honour for us to lead YLAL into a new chapter as a dynamic campaigning organisation.
Our plans for YLAL tie in with its three key objectives:
•to campaign for a sustainable legal aid system, which provides good-quality legal help to those who could not otherwise afford to pay for it;
•to promote the interests of new entrants and junior lawyers and to increase social mobility and diversity within the legal aid sector; and
•to provide a network for like-minded people beginning their careers in the legal aid sector.
Our chairing model will see each of us taking responsibility for a particular objective and co-ordinating the YLAL committee to drive forward activities in these areas.
Ollie is leading on our legal aid policy work. This includes engaging with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that its post-Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 review work is evidence-based and takes into account the interests of our members; working with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group to coordinate the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid; responding to consultations; and coordinating our campaign work on legal aid.
We are currently working with the APPG and the campaign group, More United, on a Take Your MP to Work campaign
. YLAL members from across the country have signed up to take their local MPs to work with them to highlight the importance of properly funded and comprehensive early legal advice. These visits will be recorded and become part of our first big legal aid campaign. We are planning a public launch of the campaign in parliament in early July to coincide with the 70th anniversary of legal aid.
Katie is leading on our social mobility work, which is a key element of YLAL’s work: we are keen to continue the fight to ensure that individuals from a range of backgrounds are able to enter the legal profession. Swingeing legal aid cuts have restricted access to the profession, with reduced training contract and pupillage places making it more difficult to reach qualification. Even before this, it is difficult to get started in a career in law, with expectations that people undertake unpaid internships for lengthy periods of time, followed by long stints working as paralegals.
Many barriers to the profession were identified in our 2018 report, Social mobility in a time of austerity
. These included the combination of high student debts with low salaries, the requirement to undertake unpaid work experience, and the lack of support given to junior lawyers working in highly pressured environments. We will be continuing our work to promote diversity in access to the profession and are looking forward to continuing to campaign for a more socially mobile legal sector.
YLAL as a support network
Lucie is leading on our membership support work. YLAL’s members number approximately 3,500 and include students, paralegals, trainee solicitors, pupil barristers and qualified junior lawyers all across England and Wales. At a time when the future of legal aid looks bleak, it is heartening to be able to draw strength from the passion and motivation of our members to pursue careers in this area of law.
In return, we seek to provide our members with the support they need to do this, including providing networking opportunities through holding regular meetings at YLAL groups across the country, enabling our members to see opportunities within legal aid in one place on the jobs pages of our website, and supporting junior lawyers through our popular mentoring scheme, among other things. We have plans to develop these activities so as to better serve the interests of our members, in so doing nurturing a vibrant and engaged network whose experience and expertise we can draw upon in advancing YLAL’s broader objectives.
We will use this regular Legal Action column to keep the legal aid community updated on YLAL’s activities. We look forward to working together with like-minded organisations to advance the interests of YLAL members and the legal aid sector as a whole.