Throughout my childhood I was aware of rights-based issues, from the Stephen Lawrence murder, to problems with stop-and-search and discrimination against minorities.
After completing my law degree, I was not sure if I wanted a legal career. Working in social welfare law changed my mind and convinced me that I did. With my degree, it was all very theoretical. There was little mention of how the law could be applied and its impact on people.
After I graduated, I started working in a legal aid firm in Sheffield. I was shocked at the situations people found themselves in – in relation to homelessness, rent arrears and how local authorities dealt with them.
After a few years of paralegal work, I was confident that I had the skills to become a solicitor and decided to complete the LPC. This was a major commitment: the course costs £10,000 and I gave up my job to complete it full-time. The LPC had more emphasis on the practical skills required to be a lawyer, but again there was little focus on legal aid work.
The hardest cases I deal with are when families are homeless and local authorities do not want to help. It is frustrating to see families being given wrong information. Before doing this work, I would have expected the information local authorities give out to be accurate, in the same way that I would information from the NHS or police.
Demand for legal housing advice in south-east London can be hard to cope with. The number of people needing our help is daunting at times, with regular queues at our drop-in services.
Most of our clients are vulnerable. Patience and effective communication are vital. I have become better at explaining things outside a traditional legal setting, whether making a presentation to a local organisation or talking to people at a community centre.
I am fortunate to be a part of the Legal Education Foundation’s Justice First Fellowship, as I can qualify in an area of law which focuses on social justice and the rights of vulnerable people. Being a fellow has allowed me to develop and work with specialist project the Greenwich Migrant Hub. The hub focuses on legal rights, alongside integration within the community. I feel privileged to be able to provide a service where we can offer vulnerable clients freshly cooked meals, access to community groups and help them enhance their skills.
I do not believe any clients are difficult. The key is managing expectations from the outset and making sure they understand you.
I finished my undergraduate degree in 2009, when it seemed that opportunities were very limited due to law firms pulling up the drawbridge for young lawyers. I was lucky to find a way to start my career in legal aid, but the LASPO changes have had a serious impact on the sector.