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.
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.
As you’d expect, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society (JLD) is up in arms about this. Its vice-chair, Heather Iqbal-Rayner, said: ‘Apprentice wages are designed for school leavers who are usually living with their parents and about to enter a profession. Solicitor trainees will have completed four, five or even six years of study by the time they begin a training contract and may have children and mortgages, not to mention a mountain of debt from studying.”
JLD executive committee member Camilla Graham Wood added that she was “particularly concerned about the proposed new pay arrangements pricing all but the independently wealthy out of areas like legal aid where firms tend to pay minimum rates.”
The only bright spot in the apprenticeship pay proposals – and it’s not a massive one – is that trainees would qualify for the national minimum wage in their second year of training, meaning they’d earn around £12,500.
The SRA will make a final decision about trainee minimum salaries in May. In the meantime, the JLD is set to lobby strongly in favour of keeping in place existing pay guarantees. One argument that they are likely to use, says former JLD executive committee member Kevin Poulter, is that law is a poor fit with the apprenticeship model. “Apprenticeships are more usually associated with trades, rather than the practise of academic skills. And you don’t have students paying £12,000 a year to go on a plumbing course,” he said.