A retrograde step: scrapping trainee minimum
Charles Plant, chair of the board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, says that the trainee solicitors’ minimum salary was introduced by the Law Society in 1982 ‘to prevent exploitation and attract high-calibre entrants. However, there is little evidence that it meets these aims effectively’ (By the Book).
I was chair of the Associate Members (later called Trainee Solicitors) Group of the Law Society in 1972 when some trainee solicitors were still paying a premium and most were paid very little. I asked the Law Society to introduce a national minimum wage along the lines of the then DHSS poverty line, which was £11.50 per week. The Gazette published a letter from me on 5 September 1973, in which I said: ‘We are not asking that the Law Society at this stage makes this figure mandatory. All we are asking for is a recommended minimum wage. I have spoken to many practising solicitors about this and, as far as I can recall, not one of them was in disagreement with this basic premise.’
The reason for this request was that solicitors were then exploiting trainee solicitors on a huge scale, because training contracts (articles) were in demand and anyone wanting to be a solicitor had to undertake one. Whatever changes there may have been to the training system since then, those conditions still exist. Whatever conclusions are now drawn by Charles Plant and the SRA, the fact of the matter is that premiums disappeared, and pay scales negotiated with local law societies were highly successful in attracting trainees without rich parents and from ethnic minorities.
In 1982, 10 years after we raised the issue, the Law Society may well have given us more than we asked for by imposing a mandatory minimum wage. However, removing any Law Society pressure on solicitors to pay trainee solicitors properly is a retrograde step. Giving solicitors discretion as to what they pay trainee solicitors is going to lead to exploitation, as night follows day, because the market is not based on equal bargaining power.
Bruce Edgington, Gravesend, Kent
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