A little over a year ago, the UK went into its first national lockdown and YLAL sprang into action like never before. Spearheaded by the indefatigable chairing trio Katie McFadden, Lucie Boase and Ollie Persey, YLAL members immediately got to work on membership surveys and reports, consultation responses, the amazing #APrayerForLegalAid
campaign, and just about a gazillion #YLALVirtual
Perhaps more importantly than the achievements, Katie, Lucie and Ollie have directly and indirectly kept us all going through the pandemic with their energy, strength and encouragement. We are so grateful to them for keeping up the momentum and for everything they have done over the past two years.
We have just taken on the mantle of interim co-chairs for the next six months. During that time, we hope to instigate a period of R&R²: reflection, reconnection and radical reimagining of the legal aid sector.
Much of our work over the past year has been reactive, responding to the effects of lockdown on juniors in the legal aid sector and to a slew of proposals brought forward by the UK government. We now have more of an opportunity to think about our priorities moving forward. We still need some time to iron this out and to consult with our members on how they want YLAL to work for them.
First and foremost, we would like to build on YLAL’s achievements over the past two years by reflecting on what has worked well and where improvements could be made. We have already made changes to our own policies and practices where diversity and inclusion are concerned, but we recognise that there is more to be done. We would like to hear from our members, map our committee and recruit to ensure that we learn from, empower and promote lived experience leaders across the sector.
For some of our members, the past six months have felt like wading through treacle. For others, life is almost back to ‘normal’ pre-COVID-19 madness and even higher octane than before. For the lucky among us, work has changed for the better and some balance has been restored amidst the chaos of the public health emergency.
It is a long time since our last survey, but we know from anecdotal evidence that a significant number of our members continue to struggle with the strain of working from home, under pressure to achieve billable hours targets with minimal supervision and increasing moral fatigue. And that’s not to mention the pressure on students!
We are eager to reconnect with our membership and to provide spaces for them to connect with each other through virtual platforms and local events where permitted. One of the lessons that we’ve learned from lockdown is that online panels and discussion forums open up the conversation for many more of our members and supporters across the UK and beyond. This year saw the launch of YLAL Cymru, a budding new group for our members committed to improving access to justice in Wales, where legal aid cuts have had a particularly dire impact.
We’re already working with our colleagues at Public Law Project and the Justice First Fellows to put on our annual Young Lawyers Making Change conference later this year. In the current political climate, it feels particularly urgent to bring lawyers together to discuss how we can use our skills and energies to fight for our communities and resist attacks on human rights and the rule of law. We hope we can put together a programme that will inspire and invigorate people to make a difference.
We want to live the life we imagine is possible and to enable every YLAL member to do the same. We were inspired to action by the speakers at our last #YLALVirtual event
on 28 April 2021, who included among their number Michael Mansfield QC, Chai Patel, Audrey Cherryl Mogan, Katy Watts and Shami Chakrabarti. In order to see the change that we think is possible, we have to alter how we see ourselves as lawyers. We have to harness the expertise of campaigners and activists across sectors, create common ground wherever possible, and build up from our communities.
We have to trust, we have to fight, we have to learn, we have to educate.
As a result of the great work of a number of YLAL committee members, we have some really exciting projects in the pipeline through which we hope to expand our campaigning force, focus on getting the foundations right through improved legal education and address some of the hardship caused by initiatives such as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination.
Six months is only a short period of time, but we think it is an excellent opportunity for recuperation and onward thinking. We are delighted to have been entrusted with this task and cannot wait to get started.