(With thanks to and acknowledgment of Tim Kevan, author of the wonderful BabyBarista blog at the Guardian, and to Alex Williams, qc of legal cartoonists.) I wrote on 12 December about the devastating effects that cuts in legal aid will have on litigants and the courts, especially people with family problems. Lawyers attract little sympathy, but in fact the cuts in legal aid will have an equally adverse impact on the chances of young lawyers and on diversity at the Bar. Newly qualified barristers used to rely on a meagre but reliable stream of legal aid if they took up family and criminal law work at the start of their careers. Now even that will go, for not only is legal aid being removed but the government is also urging mediation on couples. It is hoped that mediation will remove the need to start litigation, but it is as likely to lead to the parties representing themselves, inequality of arms between husband and wife, and more frustration and unhappiness for the spouses, not to mention judges trying to cope with litigants in person.
Given the hike in tuition fees and the cost of qualifying as a barrister on top of that, if there is no prospect of earning a living doing family and criminal work, then this must be a real deterrent to young people from less well off backgrounds contemplating qualifying as lawyers. On the one hand the government calls for the professions to be more open to people from every background: on the other it removes the possibilities of making one’s way that used to exist.
There are thousands of graduates from university law courses every year and thousands undertaking the professional qualifications and then looking for jobs. The Bar has only about 400 new pupillages a year and several thousand students seeking them. It makes sense to refine entry onto the professional qualification course by way of an aptitude test and an English language test, so that no-hopers do not waste their money on the fees. There is a dilemma for the profession: lawyers are visiting schools and colleges and encouraging young people to take up law, but at the same time they have to give them a realistic account of the likelihood of actually getting a job.