Battle to protect trainee pay not over yet
The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) of the Law Society is to launch a bid to re-instate the trainee solicitor minimum salary.
Before it was scrapped last year, trainees had to be paid at least £18,590 in London and £16,650 outside the capital. In the absence of this requirement firms must only pay trainees the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.
A key reason for axeing the higher pay requirement for trainee solicitors was concern that it was preventing cash-strapped legal aid and high street firms offering training contracts. But in the year since the minimum salary has been abandoned no one has really won, with this sector of the legal market continuing to struggle and increasing numbers of trainees being forced to get by on little more than £12,000 a year.
The situation is particularly dire in London where many trainees are somehow expected to survive on significantly less than the £17,000 “Living Wage”.
Max Harris, the chair of the JLD, reckons that this state of affairs is especially unfair as trainees, unlike most graduates, are lumbered with Legal Practice Course (LPC) course debt. With the LPC costing in excess of £14,000 at some providers, repayments can be substantial. Harris commented:
“The national minimum wage does not take these repayments into account. This causes great difficulties from a social mobility perspective, with individuals who are unable to rely on parenting support being stifled (at least in part) from entering the profession.”
However, rather than attempt to force law firms to pay a fair wage, Harris — whose day job is at corporate giant Baker & McKenzie, where he is an associate — is hoping the application of subtle pressure will be enough to persuade them to do the right thing.
As such, the new trainee minimum salary on which the JLD is working alongside the Law Society will be “recommended” and not enforceable.
But a statement of best practice to law firms — which they could use when advertising positions to confirm that they were “complying with the Law Society recommended minimum salary” — would have the potential to carry serious weight.
A formal proposal is set to be put forward in July after the JLD and the Law Society have consulted members to gauge their views.