What is the equivalent of "public interest law" in the UK?
March 30, 2015 1:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American lawyer, now living in London. In the US, I know what it means to be a "public interest lawyer." But I'm having a hard time seeing how it translates in the UK.

I am an American lawyer, with a great JD law degree, federal clerkships, and no real experience. Assume I know about the barrister/solicitor distinction and other basics of UK law. I find myself in London yet again (for reasons unrelated to work, obviously) and a yearning to do some kind of public interest law.

I know I could get a job in a big corporate American firm making lots of money. Yay! But not really. I have no interest in corporate work, and I'm not really that interested in the money. When I was in law school, I longed to work in the public interest. This meant: immigration work, working for plaintiff's side law firms, public defending, government work, civil rights law firms, etc.

I ask English lawyers about this kind of work, and it seems that there's no real category that this falls into. Of course there are immigration lawyers, etc. but I find that entry into these kinds of practice is really unclear to me. I've inquired about even volunteering for a while, but I don't get a response. (I know volunteers are a pain in the ass, etc., but not sure how else to even find out if it's worth transferring my degree.) And I know these are diverse fields -- I just want to do something useful to society that uses my legal skills.

This question is vague, but if anyone has any thoughts on how an American lawyer can find meaningful work (and work experience) as a public interest lawyer in the UK, I'd be thrilled to hear your thoughts!
posted by EtTuHealy to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should look into working with a solicitor who specialises in Legal Aid cases.
posted by srednivashtar at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Legal aid but the pay is terrible (really awful).
posted by laukf at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2015

And the government is squeezing hard at Legal Aid.

Civil liberties and human rights is a narrower field but better defined in the UK. There are also civil liberties charities that draw on legal skills, though probably not at salary levels conducive to a professional existence in London.
posted by holgate at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Legal Aid is the law side of it but it has been severely curtailed especially in the last 24 months. Check the Law Society blog.
posted by parmanparman at 3:38 PM on March 30, 2015

You wouldn't be able to work as a lawyer in the UK, and if you wanted to do Legal Aid work it'd have to be as a paralegal. Expect to be paid no more than £15,000 a year for this type of work. The Legal Aid system is all but dead on its feet, due to Govt cuts, so the likelihood of a solicitors' firm wanting to take on new staff to do Legal Aid work is slim to none.

Any kind of non-profit sector work in the UK is poorly paid. The only lawyers I know working in that field can only do so because their partners earn enough to support two people.
posted by essexjan at 3:40 PM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

I work in Legal Aid funded housing law, and it's a tough environment at the moment. I'm lucky (in some ways at least) to work for a charity, which gives my employers a degree of incentive to focus on quality over quantity, but even for us the effects of LASPO are biting hard.

Despite this, it's worth doing, and I'd strongly recommend looking for nonprofits who can use your skills. You're not going to make much money, although I can tell you that essexjan's perception is a bit worse than reality. You can make a reasonable middle class income, still, if you can find the work.
posted by howfar at 3:56 PM on March 30, 2015

Law Centres exist in the UK to provide free legal services to people who could not otherwise afford them. They provide volunteering, as well as paid, opportunities for people with a legal background.
posted by tallus at 9:55 AM on March 31, 2015

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