Speakeasy Advice Centre, Cardiff
I have always been a people person. From a young age I was inquisitive about why people found themselves in unfortunate situations and what could be done about it. This led to a career in social welfare law.
I completed my LLB at Aberystwyth University and then the LPC at Cardiff University. While I enjoyed university, the real legal training came in practice. I worked as paralegal and caseworker at a law firm, charity and Citizens Advice bureau for more than four years before securing a training contract with the Speakeasy.
This gave legs to the academic knowledge. It was rewarding to use these skills and see real and positive outcomes for clients.
When I graduated in 2010 it was a difficult time for the profession. The financial crisis hit many firms and the impending LASPO cuts were creating uncertainty. This continues to be a challenge as some of the most vulnerable clients do not have the access to justice they otherwise would have.
We are fortunate at the Speakeasy to have funding for a number of projects that have enabled us to continue to help clients, but many organisations did not survive the cuts. This was challenging to see both personally and professionally.
Being part of the first cohort of the Legal Education Foundation (TLEF) Justice First Fellowship (JFF) scheme has been a highlight. It enabled me to qualify as a solicitor in an area of law I am passionate about. I started my training contract earlier than the other fellows and so in May became the first Justice First Fellow to qualify in the UK. It still feels surreal that, after a difficult journey through uncertain times in social welfare law, I have qualified in this field and continue to help clients access justice.
My most rewarding outcome was in a housing case. My heavily pregnant client was fleeing domestic abuse. She had made a homelessness application on the grounds that it was unreasonable for her to remain in the property. This was rejected. There were issues to contend with including ‘honour’-based violence and threats to her life. With our assistance she was able to successfully review the decision. She was offered a property outside the area and an opportunity to start a new life.
In respect of LASPO, many organisations have faced uncertainty, job losses and have had to think more creatively about how to sustain the business. A number of clients who require legal advice and assistance are unable to get it purely on the basis that they do not have the means. These are often the most vulnerable.
The increased assistance of organisations such as TLEF has meant that firms and third-sector organisations have been able to continue to provide essential services to those most in need.
It is exciting to see the potential that schemes such as the JFF bring to the profession. They enable flexibility and movement within an area that was otherwise uncertain.