SRA sells out aspiring trainees
Forget all the corporate blather about ‘partial deregulation’ - today the Solicitors Regulation Authority board chose to dump the minimum salary for trainee solicitors.
It was a gutless, thoughtless and morally reprehensible decision, taken on flimsy grounds and with little or no debate. In passing on its responsibility, the regulator will instead rely on the national minimum wage of £6.08 an hour. With tips thrown in, you’d be better off working at McDonald's flipping burgers.
The SRA has made this decision because it does not believe it is the job of a regulator to impose levels of pay. If other professions (and their trainees) can manage without it, why not the law? What an utterly spurious argument. The legal profession should be proud of being the only one to set artificial pay scales in a bid to ensure all talent can enter, no matter their circumstances.
You only need to look at the new entrants to the journalism world to see what a deregulated profession means - the wealthy can afford to ‘take a hit’ on wages whilst they train, while the rest are forced to look elsewhere. This was a policy which gave women, ethnic minorities and poor students (all threatened by the scrapping of the minimum salary, according to the SRA itself) a level playing field. Now the odds are stacked against them.
The SRA board had five options to choose from for the future of the minimum salary, from total deregulation to retaining the status quo. Not a single member spoke out decisively in favour of the minimum salary, each hiding behind the excuse of ‘it’s not our role’.
Some were woefully out of touch. One board member called it ‘fanciful’ that a student might give up on a career in the law for the sake of a lower salary for two years. But what about the rising cost of rent? Of food? Of bills? Try explaining to Tesco that you’ll pay for your shopping only once you’ve qualified as a solicitor.
During the board meeting, it was revealed that that 1,300 people had responded to an online survey. Yet a letter in the Gazette from four students, calling for the end of the minimum salary, was said to have given a ‘different perspective’ on things, according to one member. There was little mention of the reams of opposition comments filed below the letter.
The minimum salary for trainees has always been an anomalous curiosity ever since it was introduced by the Law Society in 1982. The then-regulator had two aims: to prevent the exploitation of trainees and to ensure a high calibre of entrants into the profession, unhindered by financial constrains. The SRA has now scrapped this worthy policy. It begs the question whether it has given up on those aims too.
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