New best practice guidance states unpaid placements should last no longer than four weeks
Law students should be paid at least the national minimum wage during work experience programmes, according to new Law Society guidance released today.
The guidelines — drawn up in collaboration with the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) — aim to promote fairer access to the legal profession.
According to the solicitors’ representative body, students who undertake work experience in the legal sector should be paid “where possible” the national minimum wage or above.
This minimum pay threshold per hour currently stands at £5.30 for those between the ages of 18 and 20, and £6.70 for those over 21.
Where work experience placements are unpaid, the Law Society has warned firms that they should last no longer than four weeks. Guidance also states that reasonable expenses incurred by the student should be reimbursed.
In addition to payment, Chancery Lane big-wigs state that work experience opportunities should be “clearly defined”, “openly advertised” and “fairly recruited”.
With the guidelines being just that — i.e., not enforceable — those providing work experience within the legal sector, can simply ignore them if they wish.
In the wake of this new guidance, president of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers said:
Legal work experience has become a defining and important step towards a legal career, so competition for work experience can be intense. The Law Society guidance on work experience supports law firms to promote fair, equal access to the legal profession and good working practices.
According to JLD chair, Leanne Maund, some students’ experiences with firms did “not live up to expectations”. Citing feedback from those who had undertaken work experience in the legal sector, she said some students felt that they had been “taken advantage of”.
Back in 2014, legal aid giant Duncan Lewis attempted to hire 20 “volunteer” paralegals. The advertisement — that was quickly pulled when Legal Cheek contacted the firm — claimed that students would be assessed over a four week period, with the possibility of a job offer at the end.
But hats off to Canary Wharf based outfit Kawa Guimaraes & Associates, who went one step further, and actually attempted to charge students for work experience.
Last summer, the employment law and clinical negligence specialist, posted a job ad that revealed the opportunity — targeting desperate wannabe lawyers — was a “chargeable assessed placement”.