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.
“Sir, Your correspondent Peter Windle (letter, 6 April) makes a very significant point Why does the Bar take only about 400 puipls a year? The answer, which may surprise him, is that for some years barristers have been allowed to grant pupillage only on a paid basis. This policy was the product of a laudable desire to ensure fair access across the population. The result has been the collapse in the availability of pupillage. Twenty years ago my chambers had about 25 members and we had a varying population of 4 to 6 unpaid pupils each year. Now we have 90 members but with only three pupils, whom we provide with bursaries above the Bar minimum. Three is a significant contribution to the Bar-wide entry, but this policy is ludicrous. Broad access has been replaced by practically no access, with some chambers offering no pupillages at all”
In response, the blogger Charon QC conducted a Twitter survey of people’s views on dropping the minimum pupillage award. His post collating the info he received makes for interesting reading. As yet, there have been no concrete steps taken towards scrapping the rule. But with legal bodies notoriously sheep-like in their behaviour, a decision to get rid of the trainee solicitor minimum could well influence the bigwigs at the Bar.