Hackney Community Law Centre
I was guided to consider law by a respected sixth-form teacher while at school in Trinidad. Given the financial pressures on my sole breadwinner mother, attending university was ruled out. I wanted a profession that was not going to be phased out eventually by computers.
My introduction to advice work originally came from Camden’s Citizens Advice bureau, which saw my part-time administrator post at the Hackney Law Centre mature into a full-time caseworker role with a generalist adviser “hat” attached. Working alongside experienced lawyers exposed me to the rigour of life in legal aid and what litigating against public bodies really takes.
The hardest challenges are the ongoing lack of resources and demands to meet the ever-growing needs of more and more people. The fee structure imposed for lodging Employment Tribunal claims has hit employment practitioners hard.
How people are able to access advice now goes far further than queuing up for hours for a face-to-face interview. Hackney Law Centre took part in a digital pilot with Wigwham Legal, providing potential clients with direct access to a barrister. Alongside a scaled-back telephone advice service we also manage queries online via our website. Our furthest contact to date was from Pakistan. This use of technology causes us to look at expectations, frequency of advice and quality.
Beyond a doubt, being twice nominated and eventually winning a prestigious Law Society award – Solicitor of the Year, In-House 2014 – has been the icing on the cake so far. Among the highlights are meeting people like our patron, Lord Low of Dalston; having the president of the Law Society visit us twice; and interacting with academics at universities with a view to wrestling with the vexed issues of delivering advice in the wake of austerity and the merging of the courts and tribunals services.
The decision to extend the minimum qualifying period to two years before a claimant gets statutory protection from unfair dismissal, and the decision to tighten up on the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006, further amended in 2014, are my least-favourite laws. The first provision leaves workers treated unfairly with no access to justice. The second provision is often poorly managed by Jobcentre staff, so that a great many people are simply left without access to basic amenities.
Good practitioners are leaving or unable to do their jobs properly because of administration and bureaucracy. Good-quality entrants to the profession are being deterred by high fees and the shortage of training places.
I’ve seen the resilience of agencies in continuing to provide good-quality services, especially those co-operating with LawWorks.