If you are a prospective solicitor or barrister; it is a well-established fact that obtaining a training contract or pupillage, is by far the hardest step in the process. With that in mind, it is more than reasonable for those who are successful to expect a salary which reflects their hard work and leaves them able to survive comfortably. However, this is proving not be the case in many instances as the number of trainee solicitors working for below the recommended salary, is said to be on the rise.
Up until 2011, a minimum salary was owed to trainees was put in place and regulated by the Law Society, this was £18,590 in London and £16,650 elsewhere. However, it was after a consultation that they decided to abolish this requirement effective August 2014. As it stands law firms are therefore only required to pay the national minimum wage which has led to a great disparity in salaries, dependent upon the firm involved.
Figures show that 38% of solicitors are being paid less than the recommended amount but the most worrying statistic in relation to pay is that outside London, the figure is 41%. In response to her company’s findings, managing director of Douglas Scott, Kathryn Riley said: –
“The competition for the best and brightest graduates is tougher than ever before. A career in the legal profession remains highly desirable but failure to meet recommended salaries could mean potential trainees look to other industries in which to build their careers.”
In 2016, the Law Society recommended a trainee salary of £20,913 in London and £18,547 outside the capital. However, this is only advisory and does not have to be implemented and it is understood that one-third of the firms not adhering to the recommended salaries are smaller high street firms.
Adele Edwin-Lamerton of the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), was rather more critical saying: –
“Sadly, these figures show that the JLD was right to be concerned about the abolition of the SRA minimum salary. Overall, trainee pay has reduced year on year. This will prevent aspiring trainees from entering the profession and have a damaging effect on social mobility”
The problem is that this issue goes right to the heart of the profession. with even Law Society President Joe Egan being accused of not paying his trainees enough. Brian Scant, Chair of the JLD and solicitor at Colin Mew said: –
“A few years ago, the JLD worked very hard with the Law Society to come up with a recommended minimum salary. The actions of the president undermine the entire policy and the society’s aims of increasing social mobility, which he has himself spoken out on”
Egan expressed sincere regret, referencing legal aid cuts and the fact that he would not have been able to offer two people training contracts had he adhered to recommendations.
There is no denying that this is a serious issue which could prove detrimental to the profession. However, Egan’s point may prove key in that the bulk of resources are concentrated around London and firms in smaller more deprived areas cannot afford to meet the recommendations, even though they want to.