Associate, Simpson Millar, London
As a teenager, I knew I wanted to be a solicitor, albeit mostly from watching too many legal TV shows. I did a dual honours degree in law and criminology at Lancaster University and then completed my LPC at the College of Law, Chester. After my LPC I was offered a paralegal job at Maxwell Gillott, now Simpson Millar, specialising in education law. This is not an area of law that is typically taught at degree level or the LPC. Instead, it was the training I received after completing the academic studies that really prepared me to practise in this area.
I was working for a charity which decided to cease education law work. I spent their six-month notice as supervisor for the education law contract – assisting with the managerial impact of the closure on the staff, and dealing with vulnerable clients and their cases. A lot of people were affected.
I went from poacher to gamekeeper when I began working for a local authority as an education solicitor. This role was completely different to my previous jobs, but it gave me a fantastic insight into how local authorities think and operate. Having returned to Simpson Millar, I now spend most of my time acting against local authorities.
I represent many parents who are struggling to get the appropriate provision or suitable school placement for children with special educational needs. That includes making appeals to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). This is an incredibly rewarding area of law; we almost always manage to improve the provision or secure a suitable school place for the child. The impact on both the child and the wider family is remarkable – especially when a child’s needs are so severe that the parents have to go above and beyond what should be expected of any parent to try and meet them .
The families I work with are always really grateful for our help and lovely to work with – one of the benefits of this area of law. I guess the hardest clients are those where we might not be able to get everything their child really deserves. That is tough.
Education law has definitely suffered after the introduction of LASPO. Funding is now only available for special educational needs appeals and disability discrimination claims to First-tier Tribunal, and judicial reviews. Work regarding admissions, exclusions and school transport is no longer within scope unless it gives rise to judicial review. This means that only those who can afford legal fees have access to justice, which is a huge concern.
In September 2014, the Children and Families Act changed the special educational needs system dramatically. The scale was such that we are still in a transition process; the old system will only be completely phased out on 1 April 2018.