The Law Society has called for firms to pay those on work experience the minimum wage or above, after a survey showed that many aspiring lawyers were working for months unpaid.

In guidance published today, the Law Society has said that work experience opportunities should be clearly defined, openly advertised, and paid to the national minimum wage where possible, and that unpaid placements should last no longer than four weeks, with expenses covered.

The guidance, drawn up in collaboration with the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), follows a survey on work experience by the JLD in 2014 in which 80% of respondents said they had done some form of unpaid work experience.

Of those that did, 39% worked unpaid for between one and three months, while 23% did for over six months. But less than half of them said that they felt these placements had helped their job prospects.

Jonathan Smithers, president of the Law Society said: ‘Legal work experience has become a defining and important step towards a legal career, so competition for work experience can be intense.

’The Law Society guidance on work experience supports law firms to promote fair, equal access to the legal profession and good working practices.’

It said that when competition for work experience is intense, there is a potential for some people to be left with a choice between taking a position under unfavourable conductions or not taking a placement at all. This, it said, raises ‘significant’ equality, diversity and social mobility issues.

Leanne maund

Leanne Maund

Leanne Maund (pictured left), chair of the JLD said: ‘While work experience is generally considered to be a good thing for aspiring trainee solicitors, sometimes the reality does not live up to expectations. In some cases, candidates we heard from appear to have been taken advantage of.

'We worked with the Law Society to produce this guidance to ensure that a line is drawn between circumstances where a prospective trainee is gaining a valuable insight into an organisation for a short period of time, and those where an individual is simply working unpaid.’