Effective legal aid is essential to the running mental health law. Anyone who works in the field knows that the considerable bulk of people admitted to psychiatric facilities have few if any assets; without effective legal aid they will not have effective representation. It is disturbing that no one appears to have given serious thought to the effect of high tuition fees on legal aid practice.
Let’s do the math. Three years for an LLB at £9000 per year, plus living costs, plus a year of LPC and the living costs for that (and remember that legal aid firms, unlike city firms, won’t be paying for that final year) means that people entering law school next year will be accumulating something in the range of £80,000 in debt by the time they qualify – something in excess of half a mortgage in much of the country.
The only sensible choice for those people is to pay that off as quickly as possible – and that means getting out of legal aid work into higher paid private work as soon as reasonably possible. Legal aid work will be done only by people who don’t have the debt – the kids of relatively wealthy parents, who have paid the university fees as they go along – or by people who can’t get the private work. That does not sound like a sensible way to run a system.
I appreciate that there are lots of pressures on legal aid at the moment – but starting people off with that kind of debt really is storing up problems for the future.
And nobody in the tuition debate seems to want to talk about that.