Trainee redundancies ‘unlawful’
The Law Society is investigating claims that trainee solicitors whose contracts are terminated are being made redundant unlawfully.
David Taylor, a partner at London firm Hanne & Co, said the number of redundant trainees seeking advice has risen this year for the first time since 2008. Few if any are willing to lodge a claim for wrongful dismissal, but Taylor believes they should be granted the same rights as apprentices, whose contracts cannot be terminated except in exceptional circumstances.
The issue came up at a recent meeting of the Law Society Membership Board, which Taylor chairs.
Newly published minutes of the meeting show that the Law Society of Scotland has already begun investigating. The issue ‘would have major implications for firms in England and Wales as there was no provision in the SRA contract for termination on the ground of redundancy,’ the minutes say. Law Society president John Wotton is to raise the matter with his Scottish counterpart.
Taylor told the Gazette: ‘You can understand from the employer’s point of view that they need to save money but in my opinion it’s not legitimate for them to terminate training contracts. It might require a test case but the problem is trainees don’t want to be known as a trouble-maker and most just want to keep their head down and qualify as soon as possible.’
Iain Mitchell QC, a senior counsel commissioned to look into the issue for the Scottish Young Lawyers Association, concluded that a trainee may not be made redundant as ‘a traineeship contract is an apprenticeship contract at common law’.
He said: ‘A trainee may be prematurely dismissed only in the event of misconduct so grave and so repeated and persistent as to amount (in effect) to a repudiation by him of the training contract.’
The Law Society advises that trainees should always check their contract to ensure the firm has not breached any clauses in making them redundant. Where a genuine situation of redundancy has been identified, practices must make an application to the SRA for termination of the contract.