On 25 May 2020, Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) published its second report on the impact of COVID-19 on its members’ professional lives. This report considers survey responses collected between 2 May 2020 and 13 May 2020. We received 104 responses from those practitioners who would be eligible to be YLAL members. This report provides an update on YLAL’s previous COVID-19 report, which was published on 7 April 2020.
YLAL's second report highlights the key issues facing junior legal aid lawyers as a result of COVID-19. A recurring theme was a lack of regard for our members’ wellbeing. One respondent noted that their head of department was ‘chasing’ them for work while they were off work sick with COVID-19. Another responded that they receive ‘weekly emails about billing and time recording, telling us that we will be furloughed if we're not billing enough.’ One respondee gave an example of ‘worst practice’ of ‘finding out about furlough by my out of office being on.’
Key findings in the second COVID-19 report include:
- 78.8% reported being worried about their job security at present with 51.9% saying they were ‘extremely’ or ‘quite’ worried.
- 13.5% said they were undertaking work beyond their level of experience, up from 6.7% in the first report.
- 13.5% said that they had now been furloughed, up from 8.9% in the first report.
- Just over 50% of respondents stated that furloughed staff did not have their wages topped up by the employer and were surviving on 80% of their salary. Only 11.5% of respondents said that furloughed staff had been paid 100% of their salary.
- 15.4% reported still being required to attend court. 33% told us that the situation had improved, 28% felt that things did not improve at first but have done more recently. 38% said that there has been no improvement in conditions.
The report makes recommendations to the Government, chambers, employers and other stakeholders.
Key recommendations include:
- Employers should take into account the needs and workload of those employees not furloughed before making any decision to furlough staff.
- All furloughed employees’ wages should be topped up by employers to 100% of their salary.
- The Legal Aid Agency should make payments to legal aid providers in areas which are severely impacted by the current rules in place. We call for payments to be made to providers based on their usual legal aid income over a 3 month period.
- All court staff and court users should be provided with complete and up to date information on safety and hygiene in the court setting.
- Employers should consider the way they communicate with their staff and specifically:
- be clear as to what is happening and who will be affected;
- communicate within working hours wherever possible;
- name a point of contact for staff to discuss concerns; and
- consider whether information can be better disseminated over telephone or video conference, rather than by email.
YLAL recognises that this is an extremely difficult situation. However, it is essential that all stakeholders adopt a transparent and collaborative approach to decision making that takes into account the specific concerns of junior legal aid lawyers.
In line with YLAL’s campaigning work for the last 15 years we recognise that without root and branch reform all of the above issues will remain difficult to resolve. We therefore call on the Ministry of Justice and Treasury to consider the chilling effects of the COVID-19 crisis on access to justice and the impact of the pandemic, lockdown and aftermath on the most vulnerable members of our society.
We continue to call for the complete reform of the Legal Aid system in order to ensure that all those who need it are able to access legal advice, support and representation no matter their financial status.
The full report can be found here.
For questions about the report or media enquiries, please email email@example.com.
Young Legal Aid Lawyers
25 May 2020