Four Reasons Why The Trainee Minimum Wage Had To Go

You heard it here first, a full hour before any other publication, and it’s now been confirmed that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has scrapped the minimum wage for trainee solicitors.

The good news for current LPC students is that, firstly, the change won’t come into force until August 2014, and, secondly, trainees will still receive the national minimum wage of £6.08 an hour. Trainees will NOT be re-classified as apprentices and so the fears that they could earn just £2.60 an hour have proved unfounded.

I attended the SRA meeting at which the rule change was agreed this afternoon, and it was difficult to argue with the logic of the regulator’s board members – several of whom had clearly agonised hard over the decision.

In the end, it boiled down to four key points.

1) Why, other than for socio-economic diversity reasons, should the SRA impose a minimum salary when no other professional regulators do (other than the Bar, which sets its in line with the national minimum wage)?

2) Is a minimum wage really the best way to foster socio-economic diversity, and rather than relying on this wouldn’t the profession be better channelling energy into grass roots projects to get people from a wider variety of backgrounds into law?

3) The SRA is set to imminently introduce a work-based learning model following a successful pilot – and those coming through this route wouldn’t be eligible for the old minimum salary. So if you’d kept it, you’d have ended up with a two-tier system with some trainees getting more money than others.

4) Removing the minimum wage may enable recession-hit firms to offer more training contracts. During the meeting, this letter (and the ensuing comment thread) to the Law Society Gazette by jobless LPC graduates in favour of scrapping the minimum wage was discussed for around 20 minutes.

Personally, I’m just about in favour of scrapping it – provided the profession puts its money where its mouth is by bringing in some decent diversity schemes.

But I know many are fiercely angry about the SRA’s decision, including Legal Cheek’s own Kevin Poulter and Junior Lawyers Division chair Hekim Hannan. Here’s what they had to say:

Hekim Hannan:

"It is nothing short of disgraceful that the SRA Board have voted to abolish the trainee minimum salary in 2 years’ time. They have effectively slammed the door shut in the faces of those from lower socio-economic groups trying to enter the profession. £6.08 an hour for a 35 hour week is a salary of £11,065 a year and a monthly take home of £838.02.

Furthermore, most trainee solicitors work more than 35 hours a week but it is unlikely that they will ever complain as they will be in danger of jeopardising their future careers. Exploitation for the most vulnerable in our profession will be open to abuse.

How will someone without parental support manage to fund the LPC and then, if they are lucky, obtain a training contract at minimum wage? The loan repayments on the LPC are in the region of £300 - £400 a month. That leaves a little over £400 a month to live on, not taking into account any overdrafts, credit cards or other student debts that maybe immediately due.

Those from lower socio-economic groups will have to work 1, 2 or 3 jobs while they are studying, which will inevitably have an impact on their results and their future careers. The profession is difficult enough at the moment to enter for those from lower socio-economic groups . This decision by the SRA is the final nail in the coffin for those with the work ethic and aspirations to enter the profession without the financial backing.

The whole process, from consultation, review and decision has taken place within 4 months. The JLD have spoken to their members at their events and put together a detailed response to both the consultation and the Equality Impact Assessment. The only reason that some people thought abolishing the minimum salary might be for the good is that it may possibly increase training contracts. However, against this not a single firm has stated that a new training contract will be produced.

Furthermore, if any training contracts are forthcoming they are likely to be at the lower end of the salary range which would ‘price out’ all but the wealthy. There has been some recent inroads in social mobility but this is a step backwards. It makes the LETR and the development of more flexible and financially viable routes into the profession even more important.

It feels as though the decision was already made and the rushed consolation process was nothing more than the SRA ‘going though the motions’. The consultation, the press release following the equality impact assessment and even their agenda notes for their board meeting were heavily biased towards abolition giving far more weight to anything that supported their decision and paying only lip-service or ignoring the real impacts of abolition.

The JLD are taken from and represent the junior end of the profession and are completely in touch with our membership; are the SRA board in touch with those entering the profession? From this decision it shows that they are clueless and completely out of touch with the most vulnerable of those who they regulate."

6 Responses to “Four Reasons Why The Trainee Minimum Wage Had To Go”

  1. Liam Field

    Hekim is very eloquent in his argument, but I struggle to find much sympathy for trainee solicitors when many more people are equally poorly paid, but with careers with somewhat less potential ahead of them.

    Nor am I convinced that an arbitrary minimum wage for trainees is the best (or even an effective) way of equalising access to the profession.

    I'm also sure you'd have no shortage of takers for minimum wage training contracts from LPC graduates who otherwise failed to obtain them.

    Reply
  2. Disillusioned

    This is indeed bad news for those who want to become solicitors and who must pay for the LPC themselves as the type of firms they want to work for do not offer sponsorship. But...

    It is possible to pay for the LPC without loans and without parental support. I know this because I have done it. It is hard and it takes a few years to save enough money but it is possible. Most law schools offer part-time routes and a variety of study options - evenings, one day a week, weekends. It is possible to fit the LPC around a full-time job. There is a 7 year window in which the LPC must be started after completing an LLB or the GDL - plenty of time to save money to avoid having to take a massive loan. I don't understand why graduates take such crippling loans just to get the LPC out of the way as quickly as possible. We are likely to be working until our late sixties - why the rush? The part-time route might take longer and you might have to do a job you don't particularly enjoy for a few years but it shows commitment and determination. There are also a number of providers who are cheaper than the usual suspects - shop around and save a few grand.

    It is a move which makes little sense and will lead to some firms exploiting a number of very well qualified individuals but the legal profession isn't the only one which does this.

    Reply
  3. Mike farrell-deveau

    TBH when I first read of this and the rumours that trainees would be reduced to apprentice status I was appalled; trainees may very well be trainees but they still produce for their employer sometimes for many hours per week, and dropping them to apprentice level would effectively put them on job seekers allowance.
    However if the outcome is that national minimum wage will be adhered to then it is not anywhere near as bad. LPC applicants will just need to plan ahead, and even if you cant save the entire fee for the LPC, try and at least save some of it instead of relying entirely on student loans. There are also more cost effective providers than the headline COL / BPP centres, some of which can save you a couple of k's on the cost. Other than that, get in a good supply of pot noodles to tide you through the two years, flat share, anything to help reduce your financial output.

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  4. Adam

    Another nail in the coffin for Criminal practice.

    Whilst those wanting the lucrative lifestyle of a commercial firm, whom more than likely pay for the LPC fees of their new trainees, it leaves those wanting to seek criminal practice/legal aid funded work with a rather bleak future.

    I for one am not drawn to the glamour of commercial law (where most TCs are available) and without a higher trainee salary, I won't be able be able to afford the LPC fees and thus, am unlikely to continue with my goal of becoming a legal aid lawyer.

    Simply put, it leaves entry to the profession for those who can afford to pay for the LPC course where their aim is to practice in small firms and on legal aid. In my opinion, commercial practice will not see a change.

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  5. Tamara

    The abolishment of the minimum wage will help high street firms to offer more training contracts to students that have finished their LPC and are struggling to get into the profession, however the payment of £6.08 ( current national minimum wage) to people who spent the best of their youth investing into their education, is an insult!!!! A trainee should have a monthly salary of at least £1200. I am a Law Graduate who have finished the LPC in 2010 and am still looking for a Training Contract. I find that there is too much discrimination from law firms when recruiting trainees.

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  6. Malachi Egemasi

    I am a law graduate and about finishing my LPC in this June. The Training Contract should be abolished all together. Alternatively, the Universities that provide Legal studies and LPC, should be mandated to build into the curriculum industrial attachment training instead of a 2-year training contract, outside the 1-year LPC study. The whole idea of training contract is ' institutionalised unfairnes' imposedto cause long suffering on all law graduates, who had spent years of study and finally paid for their LPC, with money, quarried from the rock then; and had to jump another hurdle of the so called training contract. The SRA, may be right to abolish the minimum wage for training to encourage more intake of trainees, but best and honest solution should have been to make LPC training 2 year course, with one year spent with a law firm. Which means that the LPC providers must be obliged to affiliate or workwith law firms, to provide such training to the LPC students, preparing them to join the trade right after the study and training. So what ,I am trying to say is that it is better to call a spade, a spade, not a working tool. To solve the issue of training contract by giving everyone a fair chance, the SRA, should consider the above alternative, in addition to the minimum wage, if the Organisation really mean well for all.

    Reply

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