There are a lot of different terms used for the work of a childcare solicitor. You will often see them described as solicitors with care proceedings experience, solicitors who do publicly funded family law work (just about the only thing left now that is publicly funded is care work), social services family lawyer, local authority public children lawyer, children lawyer, public law solicitor and many more besides.
However, the main theme surrounding all of these different job titles is the fact that if you undertake childcare law work you are a childcare solicitor.
Childcare law is concerned with the status of a child within a family, or whether local authority need to intervene to protect a child in their best interests and look at other options such as adoption or care. It is a very complex and drawn out area of law that has a lot of emotional pressure linked to it because a childcare solicitor acting for the parents will find it hard not to get emotionally involved and be emotionally affected by the outcome of a case. Although it may not be so bad for childcare lawyers working for the local authority, you are coming at the same problem from the other side; this is not a stress-free area of law to go into (are there any?).
The types of organisations employing childcare solicitors include solicitors firms, especially solicitors firms with Legal Aid agency contracts to undertake this work, local authorities, government bodies, charities and large law firms working privately or for third party interests.
There is also work that childcare solicitors do on behalf of guardians, who are appointed by the state to represent the best interests of a child or an adult involved in care proceedings. This is work that still attracts funding from the Legal Aid Agency that has remained throughout all the different rounds of financial cuts, but this is a small and specialist area of law with very few opportunities.
Local authority childcare law is where most vacancies appear, because the work is ongoing, funding is there for the long term and local authorities have a statutory duty to get involved, regardless of the cost.
Solicitors firms acting for the children or the family are in the worst position because their funding comes from the Legal Aid agency, whose in turn funding comes from the Ministry of Justice, which spends most of its time trying to implement government cuts and reducing the funding to the solicitors and Legal Aid agency below them.
How much can I earn as a childcare solicitor?
It’s very difficult to give precise figures on this, but if you go into a solicitors firm to work in children law then it is likely you will start on a salary as a qualified solicitor at around £25,000 to £30,000 and head upwards from there, possibly reaching about £45,000 as you get to the end of your career. It is rare to see solicitors earning more than this in private practice unless they work for a large solicitors firm.
In local authority you’re probably looking at a salary of about £45,000 within 3 years of qualification, and you can couple with this the flexible hours, lengthy annual leave, good sick leave benefits, reasonable pension and lots more besides that goes with a career in local authority.
However the main money to be earned from childcare law is either to get into the top echelons of a children charity, where salaries can be six figures, or to undertake locum work as a childcare lawyer whether this is in local authority or private practice (by ‘private practice’ we mean solicitors firms). Childcare locums are in massive demand and there’s a real shortage of them. This all stems back to the Legal Aid cuts back in the early 2010s when the government decided that they could save considerable money by contracting out Legal Aid work to the lowest bidders and cutting as much money off the budget as possible – which in turn has created havoc in the family courts.
Childcare locums are some of the best paid locums in the UK, with hourly rates starting very often at £35 an hour and heading upwards to figures of £60 an hour in some desperate cases. We have come across locums who haven’t been out of work for a number of years simply because of the shortage; artificially created of course courtesy of the Legal Aid Agency.
How do I become a Childcare Solicitor?
If you thinking of an area of law that is going to be fascinating, high pressure, feeling like you are making a difference to individuals (unlike most corporate lawyers!), a reasonable salary and job prospects for the rest of your career, then potentially consider becoming a childcare lawyer, but make sure you do it from the local authority side of things and not private practice, where funding is so dicey and sporadic. You basically have to have a vocational calling to want to be a childcare, family, crime or immigration solicitor in private practice because the funding of these areas from government is so dicey, and your future would not be secure.
Getting in probably requires you to have undertaken a training contract with a local authority or alternatively a large solicitors firm like Duncan Lewis (large national practice who appear to be cornering the market in Legal Aid provision). It is hard but not impossible to switch across to childcare work if you qualify into mainstream family law. However it is very hard indeed to simply switch into the work unless you can find a particularly desperate local authority willing to take anyone on. If you are at pre-training contract stage then getting unpaid work experience either with solicitors’ firms or local authority legal departments is key. Do not forget to look at the charities involved as well..