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Trainees risk ‘exploitation’ under super-exam, junior lawyers warn

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Regulator urged to reinstate mandatory minimum salary — again

Poor law students

The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has warned the regulator that wannabe solicitors are at risk of exploitation under the work experience element of the new Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE).

In a letter to Paul Philip, chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the JLD said that under the current proposed format, aspiring solicitors could gain the work experience required to pass SQE2 “without receiving any remuneration”.

This is of particular concern for the JLD, given that the regulator has already indicated that the likely cost of the SQE would be in the region of £3,000 to £4,500 for the examinations alone.

With this in mind, the letter urges the SRA to reinstate a mandatory minimum salary for trainee solicitors and consider how to build in a mandatory minimum salary for future solicitors undertaking work experience as part of the SQE.

As things stand, the Law Society recommends (i.e. firms can choose to ignore it) trainees be paid £21,561 in London and £19,122 elsewhere. The minimum pay levels had previously been enforceable by law, however, amid many objections, this was scrapped by the SRA in 2014.

The letter continues:

“The SRA should ensure that a mechanism is in place which means that aspiring solicitors gaining their ‘work experience’ under the SQE are not working for less than the National Living Wage… and that entry to the profession genuinely is open to all.”

The SQE, due to come into force in September 2021, will be split into two parts: SQE1 focusing on black letter law and taking the form of a computer-based, multiple-choice assessment, while SQE2 will test prospective solicitors’ practical legal skills such as advocacy and interviewing. The new format will replace both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).

This, however, isn’t the first time junior lawyers have called on the regulator to reassess its decision to scrap the mandatory minimum salary. Earlier this year, the Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) warned low pay was having a “direct impact” on social mobility within the profession and was one of the “biggest challenges” facing junior lawyers.

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9 Comments

Anonymous

Scrap the whole SQE, it is a pointless change that will not benefit anyone, and will only contribute to the lowering of standards within the industry.

Kirkland Trainee

Finally someone raises this – good to have someone fighting the little man’s corner.

Anonymous

When you view the scrapping of the minimum salary alongside the article from that former Law Society policy guy things become clearer. If the Law Soc has really been captured by small firms terrified of competition, this is exactly what they would want to do – make sure those firms could exploit their trainees with very low pay. Can’t imagine a single mid sized or late firm had anything whatsoever to say about it given they all pay fair salaries already.

Anonymous

Agreed – even law centres that employ people pay them above the minimum wage.

This practice benefits high street firms, and PI factories only.

SPB Trainee

Hear, hear! About time the PI factory workers had some respite from their two years of hard labour!

spbslave

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Anonymous

Brothers! Sisters!

We need to redistribute wealth and power downwards away from partners!

Jeremy Corbyn will raise wages and increase job security for trainees!

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!!!

Anonymous

Hope nobody bites such lame trolling

Anonymous

Students – the current system of training is too expensive.

SRA – here’s your new 4K exam.

Students – what’s going to be on the exam?

SRA – Sorry you have to pay BPP and ULaw for that.

This saving would only be relevant if you could pass the exam without a prep course, and it will be marked in a prescriptive way which makes that impossible.

Big firms will continue to hire graduates, and support them through the system with decent pay.

People who can’t access these opportunities or who actively want to work on the high street will be worse off than before for all the aforementioned reasons.

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