Lawyers are setting the standard for private employers in having more firms committed to paying workers an independently assessed ‘living wage’ than any other business sector.

However, it has also emerged that solicitor practices were among hundreds of rogue employers recently penalised for not paying staff at least the minimum wage.

Some 21 law firms and barristers’ chambers have now signed up to the fair pay scheme run by charity The Living Wage Foundation (LWF), which has 205 companies registered as living wage employers. A majority are in the public and not-for-profit sectors. LWF is backed by London mayor Boris Johnson.

A ‘living wage’ is currently £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 elsewhere. The minimum wage is £6.19.

Three magic circle firms signed up early: Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Slaughter and May. Allen & Overy and Freshfields have not done so, but A&O supports the living wage and in London pays all onsite contractors the London living wage as a minimum.

Freshfields also supports the London living wage and since October 2010 has paid all staff, including subcontractors, at least £8.55. A spokesperson said the firm chose not to seek accreditation from the LWF and instead made its commitment directly to the Greater London Authority.

LWF signatories outside the magic circle include Mayer Brown, Holman Fenwick Willan, education law outfit Match Solicitors, and London and Manchester personal injury firm Fentons.

Barristers’ chambers to have signed up with LWF include Matrix, Outer Temple and 11KBW.

In 2012/13, HMRC investigated 1,693 complaints against employers for allegedly breaching minimum wage rules. This resulted in 708 employers receiving automatic penalty charges of up to £5,000 and 26,519 employees receiving an average of £300 in back pay.

HMRC told the Gazette that ‘fewer than five’ of these employers were solicitor firms, but declined to reveal the penalties imposed.