Keep the minimum wage for trainee solicitors, but scrap it for pupil barristers, argues OccupyTheInns
The thorny issue of the minimum wage for pupils and trainees has been raising its troublesome head recently. Firstly one unfortunate BPTC graduate found his claim that the minimum pupillage award is racist dismissed unceremoniously. And then came this nonsense about trainee solicitors getting paid a mere £2.60 an hour. Reading these news stories, one thought kept flashing through my head: “Why, oh why, can’t the legal profession show some common sense about all of this?”
Common sense, that old-fashioned virtue we so often forget, dictates that trainee solicitors do not earn the same sums as trainee plumbers. For starters, legal training costs a damn sight more than plumber training, and secondly being a solicitor requires a fairly robust intelligence that must be rewarded in a fair society. Pay them the existing minimum wage at least. If you can, pay them more.
As so very often, the Bar is a special case. No, the minimum pupillage award is not racist. It can, however, limit the flow of talent into chambers...
I regard being a barrister as somewhat like being an actor. It is risky, unpredictable and capable of generating the most exhilarating highs alongside dark, crushing lows that can break all but the most determined. We barristers walk a lonely, irregular path to which the usual rules often do not apply.
In an ideal world we would be funded properly to do this through pupillage, as I have argued in the past. But this world is far from ideal. That is why I believe that I am now, after much thought, in favour of removing the restriction preventing unfunded pupillages.
Let me approach the issue from a different angle. Is there a problem with diversity in Hollywood or the Barclays Premier League? I know a barrister appearing at some godforsaken magistrates court on a rainy Monday morning may not fit the star billing of Wesley Snipes, but the principle is the same.
The mindset of your average barrister, or high achiever in any walk of life, is different. We are willing to go further than most and work harder if necessary. We are willing, in other words, to take part-time evening work to cover our living expenses while we toil unfunded during the day. We are willing, most of all, to take a chance.
Sadly, external restrictions prevent many Bar graduates from taking that chance, forcing us instead to rely on the whims of chambers' interview panels and human resources staff responsible for sifting our application forms. It is a reliance that I do not foresee changing in the period in which I hunt for that elusive pupillage.
This makes me sad because it means the Bar is missing out on talent – not me personally, although I do consider myself to possess the necessary skill-set, but many good people from a range of different backgrounds. Without talent what does the legal profession, and especially the Bar, have?
OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. There's more from OccupyTheInns here.