Six years after a lord chancellor mulled imposing a levy upon them, elite City law firms have responded to the legal advice crisis by funding a new generation of social welfare lawyers.
Twelve firms have contributed towards the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund, led by the City of London Law Society in partnership with training provider BARBRI, Young Legal Aid Lawyers, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and the Law Centres Network.
Contributors include Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, Eversheds Sutherland, Freshfields, Linklaters, Macfarlanes, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Travers Smith, Trowers & Hamlin, White & Case, and the City of London Solicitors Company.
The BARBRI preparation course and assessment for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) costs £8,800. Total funding supplied for the first year of the scheme is £145,000, with each firm contributing an average of £10,000.
Law Society head of justice Richard Miller said: ‘This will help rebalance a small part of the access to justice challenge, by ensuring people stay in social welfare legal work, helping them gain the education and qualifications they need to act effectively as social welfare solicitors.’
Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves MP said she was proud to support the fund ‘and I encourage as many firms as possible to get involved’.
MPs highlighted recruitment and retention concerns in two separate legal aid inquiries this year and called on the government to fund training.
Last month the government said it was already considering the sustainability of the civil legal aid market and how best to support the legal aid workforce, including by funded posts within firms and the funding of training contracts.
In 2015, the then lord chancellor Michael Gove suggested that the ‘richest’ in the legal system should plug the gap created by cuts to legal aid. But his suggestion of a City levy came to nothing.
Solicitor general Alex Chalk QC MP also raised the possibility of a City levy to fund legal aid shortly after he was appointed justice minister last year.