The number of trainee solicitors working for less than the recommended minimum salary is at its lowest point for three years, new figures show - though a quarter of trainees still say they earn below minimum levels.

According to figures due to be published today, 25% of trainees are paid below the recommended minimum levels. This compares to 31% in 2016 and 35% in 2018 – a 28% decrease in one year.

Legal recruiter Douglas Scott, which surveyed 500 trainees, said the change is largely attributable to an improvement in regional remuneration where 26% of trainee solicitors are being paid below the recommended minimum salary, down from 41% in 2018. In London, 17% of trainees are being paid below the minimum salary, down from 20% in 2018 and 25% in 2017.

The research also reveals that the average number of hours worked per week by trainees has decreased slightly from 43 hours to 42; 17% of respondents said they were working over 48 hours per week compared with 21% a year ago. London-based trainee solicitors still average a 44-hour working week, 2.5 hours more than their peers in the regions.

In March last year, the Law Society recommended that providers of training contracts should pay their trainees £21,561 in London and £19,122 outside London.

Previously a mandatory minimum salary was set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) but after abolishing that requirement in 2014 the regulator now stipulates only that trainees are paid the National Living Wage.

In May last year, an SRA impact study revealed that abolishing the minimum wage for trainees had led to a slump in average pay and seen the gender pay gap widen.

Jon-Paul Hanrahan, associate director at Douglas Scott, said: ‘This is good news, we have been tracking trainee pay awards for some time now and this year does feel different. Law firms have reacted positively to criticism, as our research also revealed that 45% of trainee solicitors received a pay rise this year compared to 35% in 2018 and for many it brought them above the threshold for the first time.’