Justice First Fellows qualify as solicitors
Scheme a â€˜ray of light' following legal aid cuts
The first cohort of Justice First Fellows have completed their legal training to qualify as solicitors at some of the country’s leading social welfare organisations.
Launched in 2014 by the Legal Education Foundation, the Justice First Fellowship funds the salary, supervision, and associated costs of trainee solicitors at selected social welfare organisations, including the Public Law Project, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, and Coventry Law Centre.
In addition to their legal training, fellows undertake a project aimed at increasing access to justice. The project helps provide the host organisation with a chance to develop an income-generating area of work that could contribute to the salary of the fellow once the foundation’s funding ends.
Denise McDowell, director of Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, said: ‘The fellowship scheme felt like a ray of hope, coming at a time of legal aid cuts and closures in the advice sector. The financial contribution is important – without it, we would never have been able to find the money for a new post – but it’s more than that. It is about optimism, and investing in the future and saying, “We are not done yet.”’
Katy Watts, a fellow based at the Public Law Project, said the fellowship had provided her with opportunities beyond those of the average training contract. ‘Workshops in fundraising, social media, and project planning have helped me develop the skills necessary for a social welfare lawyer in an increasingly difficult environment. I’ve also made lasting friendships with other fellows, and look forward to building on that network for future projects.’
The other fellows to qualify are: Deidre Flanigan (Govan Law Centre), Maryam Hussain (Deighton Pierce Glynn), Helen Roberts (Speakeasy Advice Centre), Melissa Darnbrough and Nadia Hussain (Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit), Debra Robinson (Staffordshire North and Stoke on Trent Citizens Advice Bureaux), and Amber Rowsell (Coram Children’s Legal Centre). Fanny Forest (Coventry Law Centre) is on a part-time training contract and is due to qualify in July.
Of the fellows who are now qualified, five have been retained by their host organisations and are working as social welfare law solicitors, and one has moved to private practice as an employment lawyer. The post-qualification plans of the other three are being finalised.
TLEF’s chief executive, Matthew Smerdon, said: ‘I would like to congratulate all the fellows on completing their training – and for helping us pioneer the Justice First Fellowship. It is thanks to them and their host organisations that the scheme has exceeded our expectations, and is well on track to creating the social welfare law leaders of the future.’
Another nine fellows are set to qualify as solicitors in early 2018. A further 15 will qualify in late 2018/early 2019, including the first two barrister fellows.
TLEF is currently working with Young Legal Aid Lawyers to develop wider networks and sources of support and development for the period after the scheme.
Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal