The arguments of Junior Lawyers Division chair Hekim Hannan (Comment) are, to borrow his own words, ‘ill-considered and nonsensical’. He appears to speak for less than 10% of junior lawyers, let alone black people and other ethnic minorities, who, after attaining a respectable law degree and LPC, are unable to get a training contract simply because many big firms overlook them. It is my guess that over 90% of BME-run firms cannot afford to pay the present minimum salary.
There are hundreds of aspiring solicitors who, after years of training, hard work and financial stress, have no training contract. I was a mature student and a junior lawyer. When I completed my law degree at the University of Central Lancashire and my LPC at BPP Law School, I did not get a training contract despite hundreds of applications. I was 58 years old, so I painfully accepted that becoming a lawyer was one of those unfulfilled dreams. I continued to work as a housing officer at a London council, on £26k pa.
A chance meeting with an old acquaintance changed my fortunes. He had done voluntary work with me at a law centre six years before his enrolment as a solicitor and setting up a firm. He was very sympathetic about my plight and was eager to help. The only snag was the minimum salary. We agonised over it, but seeing no other way round it, he signed me on.
After paying me the minimum for 10 months, he was on the brink of bankruptcy and had to reluctantly terminate the contract. I found myself in a worse situation because I had quit my employment to commence a training contract that came to an abrupt end. Luckily, a BME principal soon accepted me to complete my training and I qualified.
Today, my firm is authorised to take trainee solicitors. We have trained a solicitor and another is training. Six solicitors earn their livelihood as lawyers at the firm. Consider the fact that, on the minimum salary, my hopes of becoming a solicitor were almost dashed. If allowed to do so, I would have accepted a training contract with no salary at all or to be paid on commission.
There should be no salary prescription. Applicants and employers should agree a way forward. Rich firms can pay the minimum or more, while struggling firms may pay less.
Abolition can only help increase the number of training contracts. It will help junior lawyers and new graduates, and increase diversity in the profession. The so-called ‘key stakeholders’ appear to speak for the privileged few.
Adolph Okoro, Graceland Solicitors, London SE18