Trainee solicitors could be re-classified as apprentices – and see their salaries tumble to just £5,408 a year as a result – after a new development in the debate about getting rid of the minimum salary that safeguards their pay.
2013: A City lawyer stumbles upon a trainee solicitor at a legal aid firm and decides to dip into the CSR budget
The news comes after the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) ammended its proposals for a new trainee lawyer pay regime following advice it received that trainees would be classed as apprentices under the national minimum wage regulations.
With the minimum salary for apprentices set at just £2.60 an hour (working out at £5,408 a year when calculated on the basis of a forty-hour week), trainee solicitors working in areas like legal aid would, under the proposals, earn less than half what someone on the national minimum wage of £6.08 an hour takes home – and just a fraction of the current trainee minimum salary of £18,590 in central London and £16,650 outside.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said there’s no regulatory justification for retaining the 30-year-old policy of minimum salaries for trainee solicitors. For legal geeks, the detail is explained nicely on LegalFutures.
To summarise the practicalities: the scrapping of the minimum pay rule - currently £18,590 in central London and £16,650 elsewhere – would leave trainee solicitors protected only by the minimum wage. That currently stands at £6.08 per hour for over 21s. A final decision on the proposal will be made next year.
The minimum award for pupillage is itself barely minimum wage level: just £12,000 a year (raised from £10,000 last year). But having a minimum award at all is a relatively new concept, the policy having only been introduced in 2003. Before then, barristers’ chambers could offer unfunded pupillages. Some people blame the current lack of pupillages relative to Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates on the funding requirement. Others argue that getting rid of the minimum would set the Bar even further back in terms of social mobility.
Last April, an interesting letter from Charles Miskin QC on this subject appeared in The Times. At the risk of incurring News International’s lawyers’ wrath, I’ll re-produce it here.
Founder of new cut-price training contract scheme responds to recent criticism from Legal Cheek’s Alex Aldridge and Flora Duguid
No doubt the new Accutrainee legal training model won’t be right for everyone. But contrary to the opinions expressed by a number of blogs and articles, it can deliver many benefits to both firms and graduates.
First misconception first, Accutrainee does not deliver trainees on an ‘ad hoc’ basis. When we offer a training contract, the graduate will know which firm(s) they will be seconded to before they are asked to accept. A trainee may only end up training at one firm for their training contract, or, for example, one year at two different firms, but these are all important factors which are explained and agreed beforehand. The minimum amount of time a trainee can spend at a firm is three months, but this will only happen on rare occasions and usually at the specific request of the trainee or client firm.
Law graduate Flora Duguid isn’t impressed by the new solicitor training scheme Accutrainee
The more I think about Acculaw (or Accutrainee as the new training scheme for wannabe lawyers was recently re-branded), the more it reminds me of a pair of Jimmy Choos in a charity shop. Both look fantastic at first sight, but on closer inspection you notice the scuffs.
Accutrainee involves recruiting Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduates and seconding them to a range of law firms as temporary trainees, thereby allowing them to complete their training contracts without compelling any single firm to fund them for two years.
The basic idea is appealing for several reasons. One is its flexibility. The traditional trainee solicitor recruitment timeline is inflexible, with little scope for firms to bring in graduate recruits other than by hiring them two years before the training contract commences. Accutrainee, which targets LPC graduates, responds to this.
Ambiguous term is stunting debate, says LegalAware
The word 'diversity' is an unhelpful one, not least because it means different things to different people. I got a taste of this in the responses I received on Facebook and Twitter when I asked around 4,000 people what diversity meant to them. Responses included:
"Feel it's a buzzword used everywhere that doesn't really have any meaning; it hasn't achieved equality."
"Oh dear. 'Dai (Welsh man's name) 'versity' - syllables 2-4 of word university - geddit?"
"The inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures...)"
"Depends on the type of job but generally an unhelpful term"