Private practice firms are helping to train a future generation of lawyers specialising in an area hit by legal aid cuts.

The Legal Education Foundation (TLEF), a grant-making charity, is offering 11 social welfare training contracts through its Justice First Fellowship scheme.

Organisations that take on trainees are given around £75,000-£80,000 over the two years to cover salary, supervision and training costs. In some cases, part of the grant is contributed via co-funding support from grant-making trusts and sponsor companies.     

This year Eversheds, Gowling WLG, Hogan Lovells and Shakespeare Martineau have co-funded a fellowship at Birmingham Community Law Centre.

Hogan Lovells has co-funded a contract at the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit in London.

Training contracts are also being offered at Children’s Law Centre, Clan Childlaw, Islington Law Centre, Just for Kids Law, Norfolk Community law Service, RCJ Advice, Release, South West London Law Centres and TA Law.

The fellowship scheme was established in 2014, initially offering nine fellowships which attracted 161 applications. Last year the foundation offered nine fellowships, which attracted 159 applications.

TLEF chief executive Matthew Smerdon (pictured) said: ‘We thought there would be strong demand and designed an application process that is rigorous and requires candidates to demonstrate a clear commitment to social justice law.

‘We think this limits the numbers of applicants to those that are specifically interested in a career in social justice law, rather than those keen to secure a general training contract.’

Trainees are not guaranteed employment at their host organisations once they qualify.

‘However, all the organisations hosting fellows entered into the scheme hoping to invest in a talented trainee who would go on to stay in the organisation once the foundation’s support comes to an end,’ Smerdon said.

‘In addition, the fellowship is designed so that, alongside the training contract, fellows develop a project that gives them useful experience and time to build a service and an income stream that will contribute to their salary once the fellowship support ends.’

Sophie Earnshaw, who secured a contract at Child Poverty Action Group last year, is developing online support to help people representing themselves at Upper Tribunal social security appeals to get a fair hearing.

The foundation is also working ‘in lots of ways’ to ensure a successful transition into employment in social welfare law, Smerdon added.