Authors:Paige Jones and Kaya Kannan
Last updated:2023-09-18
“It is vital that we have aspiring community care and mental health lawyers who are able to join the profession.”
Marc Bloomfield
Description: YLAL
Heading into the new year, those of us in the legal aid sector brace ourselves for another 12 months of trying to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable in society and challenging unfair policies. This is all the more important now that the cost of living is up, public service staff are striking and the poor levels of legal aid funding continue to cripple vital legal services across the country.
Towards the end of 2022, YLAL held one of its first in-person events since the COVID-19 pandemic began. This was a panel discussion (followed by a drinks reception) called ‘An Introduction to Community Care and Mental Health Law’, held in the lovely offices of Bolt Burdon Kemp in London, and we had the pleasure of being joined by a range of legal professionals throughout the areas of community care and mental health law.
Our fantastic panel comprised Tam Gill, a mental health law solicitor and current president of the Mental Health Lawyers Association, Bethan Harris, a barrister specialising in community care, housing and Court of Protection work, Dr Laura Janes, a solicitor specialising in prison law, criminal appeals, mental health law, community care and public law, Basmah Sahib, a solicitor specialising in mental health tribunal work, public law and human rights, and Mitchell Woolf, a solicitor whose practice predominantly involves bringing community care challenges on behalf of disabled and vulnerable adults and children. The panellists shared their experience, insight and advice on what working in these areas entails, how to get there and, importantly, what tangible differences can be made to clients’ lives.
YLAL believes that these areas of law are among those feeling the strain of poor funding and low retention rates. Put together, these issues impact the ability of those within the profession, who are passionate and hard-working, to achieve social justice and help people who really need it.
Both community care and mental health are crucial areas of law within the sector that serve to inform, guide and assist vulnerable clients who are potentially unable to fight for themselves against institutions or go through difficult legal processes that have significant impacts on all aspects of their lives. It cannot be overstated that these areas encompass a range of important, fascinating and challenging issues, and therefore it is vital that we have aspiring community care and mental health lawyers who are able to join the profession and carry on this good work.
The feedback that YLAL received from those who attended the event was that it was an enjoyable and informative evening, and they had many questions for our speakers at the end of the talks. It was great to get together in person again, to meet so many enthusiastic aspiring legal professionals, and to enjoy the sense of community that brings us all together across the sector.
YLAL hopes that events such as these will inspire future legal aid practitioners to enter the profession, despite the challenges that we all face, and continue the commitment and drive shown by those in the sector already. We believe that legal advice should be accessible to people from all walks of life, and the lack of access to quality advice and representation is particularly worrying in the areas of community care and mental health law owing to the very nature of the clients’ positions.
Following the success of ‘An Introduction to Community Care and Mental Health Law’, we look forward to hosting more events in the future, discussing other areas of law within the legal aid sector and inviting as many people as possible to join us. Together, we can share knowledge and inspiration to encourage access to the profession and ensure that our clients are empowered by the legal advice and quality service that they receive, even in their most difficult times.