Legal Aid practitioners need to have thick skins and infinite patience. They need these virtues to ensure longevity in this difficult area of legal practice. Being a Legal Aid lawyer means having to deal with some of society’s most vulnerable and challenging individuals during the most trying and harrowing periods of their lives.
As much as Legal Aid lawyers try to maintain a good ‘work life balance’, the reality of the situation is that it is nigh on impossible in not letting work creep into home life. This is not only because of the Legal Aid lawyer being overworked (that’s a given), or because the Legal Aid lawyer is underpaid (also a given), it’s the inability to put information regarding a case or cases out of their minds. Legal Aid lawyers live and breathe their cases, sometimes unhealthily so. I suppose it goes with the territory; who here would be able to compartmentalise some of the stuff that Legal Aid lawyers have hear?
The stuff Legal Aid lawyers have to contend with is not for the faint hearted. They deal with some of the most wretched people in society, those that are abused, those who abuse, those who supposedly do not know the difference between right or wrong, mad cases, bad cases and sad cases.
You’d be forgiven if you thought that Legal Aid lawyers would be cut some slack given the gravity of their work but not if you are the Secretary of State for the Home Department. With the culture war in full swing, our esteemed Home Secretary, Priti Patel has waded into the concocted controversy regarding ‘do-gooders’ and ‘lefty lawyers’ in relation to Immigration and Asylum practitioners. Lawyers within this area of law are invariably dependent upon Legal Aid and deal with some of the world’s most damaged people. Those fleeing persecution, risking their lives to offer their families a chance of a better life. Such rhetoric from Ms Patel is not only insulting to lawyers who work for the scraps that make up the Legal Aid fee, her words have the potential of putting such lawyers at physical risk from those members of the public who are exercised by talk of illegal immigrants.
By picking on those lawyers who, by all measures, are some of the most poorly paid in the industry, heavily reliant on Legal Aid, working for a few hundred quid in cases that require hours and hours of patient and sensitive preparation with damaged people who in many cases cannot speak English, just shows where the governments priorities lie. It solves nothing by throwing fuel onto the already raging fire. Such disdain is especially galling when the parents of the Home Secretary benefitted from the equivalent lawyers in the 1970s when they entered the UK as refugees. This ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude speaks volumes.
This article is not intended as a sob story on behalf of Legal Aid lawyers, after all this is a choice that the individual lawyer has made in terms of a career path. I do, however feel that the much-maligned Legal Aid lawyer is under appreciated and at present under siege. Someone has to do this important work. Sometimes things do not go as we wish them to go and sometimes, we need help from those with the skills to help. It’s time the government stopped maligning this vital pillar of the Legal Profession.