Junior lawyers are to revive the campaign for a minimum salary for trainees – with the help of the Law Society.
The regulatory minimum, of £18,590 per year for training contracts based in central London and £16,650 for those outside the capital, was abolished last year. Since then, employers have been required to pay only the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.
Max Harris, chair of the Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), told the division's annual dinner on Saturday that the minimum trainee salary was one of four areas where the JLD would be focusing a lot of its attention this year.
Harris said that the law is a unique sector because many trainees have to begin repaying the cost of their LPC, which averages £11,500, from the start of their training contact.
‘The national minimum wage does not take these repayments into account. This causes great difficulties from a social mobility perspective, with individuals who are unable to rely on parenting support being stifled (at least in part) from entering the profession.’
The JLD is working with Chancery Lane with a view to a recommended minimum salary being issued in July. The recommendation would not be enforceable. Instead, it would provide a statement of best practice to employers.
Additionally, employers would be able to advertise their training positions as ‘complying with the Law Society recommended minimum salary’.
Harris said the Society would be consulting members to gauge the views of the profession before any implementation occurs.
The Society opposed the abolition of the minimum salary for trainees, and had significant concerns about the equality and diversity implications. ‘We sympathise with the JLD and are discussing with them how the Society can the best assist them in addressing their concerns,' a spokesperson said.
The JLD will also seek to address concerns over flexible routes to qualification.
Under the Solicitors Regulation Authority training regulations 2014 - which replace the 2011 regulations - exemptions to the training contract may be granted to an LPC graduate who can demonstrate ‘other assessed learning and work-based learning’ through ‘equivalent means’ of training.
Harris said the JLD, in theory, supports flexible routes, but ‘that support is based on the assumption that quality of standards will be maintained.
‘We are still unsure of how “equivalent means” is assessed, even after a solicitor has qualified via that route.’
He added. ‘Our long-term concern is that flexible routes to qualification will lead to a two-tier legal profession – where one route to qualification is seen as superior to another route.’
Other areas the JLD will address are unpaid work experience - a recent survey revealed that one in four aspiring solicitors has done unpaid work experience for more than six months at a time - and member engagement.