Open letter: trainee solicitors and the minimum salary
We are a few of the thousands of students who have passed the LPC exam and are desperately waiting for training contracts. We and many of our other friends have been applying for training contracts for over two years since passing the LPC but without success. Some of us have made more than 300 applications and very few firms invited us for interviews but we have not been successful.
The majority of us did not study in the top universities of the country to have a chance to get into large solicitors' firms or City firms and we are largely dependent on small-sized firms and sole practitioner firms. There is no doubt that a majority of us are applying to sole practitioner firms because our chances of getting a contract would be better in these firms as opposed to applying to larger firms.
Unfortunately many sole practitioner firms are currently having financial problems and are not in a position to pay the minimum salary stipulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Although the SRA permits solicitors to apply for a waiver of the minimum salary which would be granted on exceptional grounds, they do not say what these exceptional grounds are. They say that they do not accept a company’s financial situation as a reason. When one of my colleagues spoke to the SRA and asked what the exceptional circumstances are the person who spoke said she herself does not know what they are.
Some time ago one of my friends got a training contract and her employer applied for a waiver but this was refused. She then had to resign from the company and was working in a departmental store as a sales assistant. She was made redundant from there and she has been unemployed for the last six months. Certainly it would have been better for her to have secured a training contract and a salary of about £14,000 (less than the minimum but more than what the SRA has suggested for waiver of the minimum salary) rather than being unemployed and earning no income.
We understand that the SRA is in favour of scrapping the minimum salary requirement - a salary which at the moment prevents LPC-qualified people from having to work in small firms for paltry salaries, or having to do work placements in legal firms for no pay. We understand that the Law Society is opposed to the scrapping of the minimum salary but at the same time they have no scheme to help almost 80% of the LPC-qualified people who are without training contracts for more than two years. More and more solicitors are reluctant to take trainees because of the unreasonable requirements and the attitude of the Law Society and SRA (we still do not know whether it is the SRA or the Law Society who is ultimately responsible for making decisions with regard to approving training contracts).
Although there is in place a scheme for solicitors to apply for waiver of the minimum salary there is no guarantee that the applications would be accepted even if the requirements are met. Could someone from the SRA tell us what needs to be shown for the application to be approved. If they are looking for exceptional circumstances please let us know what these exceptional circumstances are. The guidance notes issued are extremely vague.
We understand that those who are qualified as barristers and accountants do not get a minimum salary during their pupilage or apprentices. There is no condition imposed upon the Barristers’ Chambers by the Bar Council or on the accountants by the controlling bodies for the accounts to pay a minimum salary; it is left entirely up to the employers. Why do trainee lawyers have to be subjected to this kind of condition? It is wrong to use the argument of exploitation of employees to impose this condition. It is up to the employer and the employee and usually most employers do not exploit trainee solicitors. Even if they do there are other remedies and one should remember the basis of employment law is the contract entered into between the employee and employer. The Law Society’s Rule is in breach of this principle.
When an employer advertises for a training contract job we understand an average of over 200 applications are received. When one succeeds and the employer applies for a waiver it takes some time for the SRA to make a decision and when it is refused the employee has to leave the office and go and sit at home without work or income. The time spent with the solicitors then becomes wasted.
We are sure that we are reflecting the feelings of thousands of LPC-qualified people without the training contract. We therefore ask the SRA and the Law Society to re-think on this and change their attitude rather than destroying the future of many of us. (Some of our friends have already given up the legal profession and gone into other fields because they could not get a training contract). Let the employers decide the salaries of the trainees. There are firms that even pay more than the minimum salary because they are big and they can afford it, and of course smaller firms pay less. What is wrong about this?
Could someone from the SRA and Law Society publish a reply to this letter in the Law Gazette for the benefit of all LPC and future graduates as to where we stand.
Amy JohnsonClaire PetersonDarren AthertonNeeta Varsani