The number of trainee solicitors saying they are working for less than the recommended minimum salary has risen by nearly a quarter in three years. 

According to figures seen by the Gazette, 38% of trainees are being paid below recommended levels, an increase of 22.5% since 2016 (31%) and 8.5% more than 12 months ago (35%).

The figures are particularly grim outside the capital where 41% of lawyers are working for less than the recommended minimum, up 10% on last year’s figure of 37%. However conditions in London appear to have improved, with only one in five reporting being paid below the recommended minimum, down from one in four last year.

The figures were gathered by legal recruiter Douglas Scott, which surveyed 500 trainees.

Other findings were that the average number of hours worked per week has increased to 43 from 40. Some 19% of respondents said they are working over 48 hours per week compared with 13% a year ago, a jump of 46%. The average number of contracted hours per week is unchanged at 37.5 hours.

The recommended minimum salary, calculated by the Law Society, adds the average annual cost of the LPC to a 35-hour week on the living wage. 

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) abolished the mandatory requirement for firms to pay the minima in 2014 - though it does insist that firms adhere to the statutory minimum wage rather than paying apprenticeship rates. 

As of November 2016 the Law Society recommended minimum salary for trainees was £20,913 in London and £18,547 outside London. The Society said the recommended minimum salary calculation is being reconsidered in light of changes to available funding options.

The Gazette understands that one third of the firms paying below the recommended minimum are High Street firms.

Adele Edwin-Lamerton, chair of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), told the Gazette: ’Sadly these figures show that the JLD was right to be concerned about the abolition of the SRA minimum salary. Overall, trainee pay has reduced year on year. This will prevent aspiring trainees from entering the profession and have a damaging effect on social mobility.’

Kathryn Riley, managing director at Douglas Scott said: ‘The competition for the best and brightest graduates is tougher than ever before. A career in the legal profession remains highly desirable but failure to meet recommended salaries could mean potential trainees look to other industries in which to build their careers.’