Launch of YLAL's report on access to the legal aid profession
On 30 October 2013 YLAL marked the publication of our latest report on social mobility and diversity in the legal aid sector, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”, with an event at the London South Bank University. The keynote speaker was Baroness Hale and the event featured a debate with a panel of guests including Lucy Scott-Moncrieff – Director of Scott-Moncrieff & Associates Ltd and Chair of the Law Society's Equality and Diversity Committee; David Johnston – CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation; Chris Topping – Partner at Broudie, Jackson & Canter, Simao Paxi-Cato – YLAL and Invictus Chambers and James Wakefield – Director of the Council of the Inns of Court. The discussion was chaired by journalist Raphael Rowe.
Opening the evening, Baroness Hale (whose speech can be accessed here) set the tone with a stark statement on the state of the legal profession: “[w]hat is going on now is the opposite of everything that many people of my generation hoped for and indeed thought was coming to pass.” She described watching the rise and fall of legal aid in the 20th century, from the birth of legal aid in the post-war welfare state era, to the erosion of legal aid that has been happening since the 1990s.
Baroness Hale’s views on social mobility were honest and steeped in reality. Her speech engaged closely with the findings from our report and the recently published Milburn report. She considered how social mobility in the profession was not what it should be; she laid bare the reality of the judiciary; and she also explained how being the “one woman” in the Supreme Court places undue pressure on her to be the archetypal woman, somehow representative of every woman’s view.
After a short interval the panel debate began. Questions ranged from the wider societal impact of the lack of social mobility in the profession and the feminisation of the legal aid sector, to clamping down on unpaid internships and capping the numbers of places on the legal vocational training courses. Towards the end of the debate focus switched towards how we, as young legal aid lawyers, can promote our message. Lucy Scott-Moncrieff emphasised the importance of making sure we ‘bring home’ to members of the public what legal aid can mean to them. The final question of the night came from Simon Hughes MP, who asked the panel what they would do to redouble their efforts to promote the message. The panel was unanimous in agreeing with the importance of continued and renewed efforts to fight the cuts. Although there was a tough reality ahead, Chris Topping insisted that those who want to work in legal aid should just ‘go for it’.
At the close of the evening, the audience departed with a keen sense of the difficlties that Baroness Hale had said would never have been imagined by her generation. But there was also a renewed sense of optimism following the panel discussion: a sense that, that if we try hard enough, and if we talk to enough people, then it is possible to bring about change, and ensure that social mobility improves in the legal profession.
Thank you to YLAL committee member Deena Blacking who wrote this summary for the website. And of course the members who took part in the survey that formed the basis for the report and the many volunteers who worked so hard on writing up the findings and putting on the launch event. Thank you also to the employers who agreed to be interviewed for our report (Turpin and Miller LLP, Public Law Project, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors and Stephensons Solicitors LLP).
We are also very grateful to our keynote speaker at the launch, Baroness Hale, compere Raphael Rowe and all the other panel members, who gave their time so generously to discuss the issues arising from the report.
Lastly, thank you to our sponsors, without whose support the launch of the report would not have been possible: Irwin Mitchell LLP, London South Bank University, Leigh Day, TV Edwards LLP, Invictus Chambers and Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.
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