Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) is a group of lawyers who are committed to practicing in those areas of law, both civil and criminal, which have traditionally been funded by legal aid.
The route to qualification as a solicitor has undergone a huge change following the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in September 2021. We know that the uncertainty caused by the introduction of SQE has created difficulties – both for firms and for those who are seeking to qualify – as we all attempt to understand the new rules and requirements in a more flexible, and therefore more complicated, system of qualification.
Since its inception, YLAL has been concerned about the impact of SQE upon access to the profession and social mobility. One of our key focuses has been upon the cost of qualification – in the pre-SQE era, this was already a difficult barrier for prospective solicitors to overcome, but we are concerned that this will be more so under SQE.
We understand that firms whose practice is predominantly legal aid are often in difficult financial circumstances, and are often not in a position whereby they can offer funding for their staff to go towards the costs of these courses.
The cost of qualifying was already a bar to qualification, but YLAL has been concerned that the existing barriers will become even more so under SQE. For example, the cost of sitting the SQE exams is separate to the fees for any preparation course, and the exams alone cost £4,000.
YLAL have produced a series of blogs and posts, designed to demystify SQE and explain the requirements of each step and the difference with the traditional LPC route. One of the big changes is from a ‘training contract’ at a single firm, to ‘qualifying work experience’ which can be completed in separate components, at a variety of organisations.
In light of the increased barriers to qualification, YLAL are excited to announce that we has been working with other organisations to create a national fund which will pay for the SQE preparation courses and exams for the next generation of social welfare lawyers.
As part of the application process, those who are applying will need to provide a letter, on headed paper, from their employer. This letter will need to confirm that the employer will give them the opportunity to obtain their two years’ qualifying work experience.
YLAL believes this is an incredible opportunity for law firms and organisations to promote the development and training of their junior staff who may not otherwise be able to afford to qualify under SQE.
We are really excited for the possibilities this fund brings, and we are looking forward to seeing way in which firms show their support for their incredible junior lawyers,
We believe this fund can have a huge impact, not just for the individual recipients, but for access to justice for each and every one of the clients our awardees will advise and represent throughout their careers.
We are all very aware of the crisis in recruitment, retention and succession which is faced by the sector. This fund will not fix these issues, which are endemic within the social welfare sector and which are decreasing access to justice for all of our clients. However, we hope it will go some way towards promoting social welfare law as an important career choice for brilliant junior legal minds.
We appreciate that many firms have not yet fully reconciled the changes brought in by SQE with their current systems – particularly given the additional stresses which everyone has been dealing with since last March!
If you have questions about the scheme, the requirements of the letter which must be provided by the firm, or anything else, we are very happy to answer these – our team can be contacted at email@example.com