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Removing the Trainee Solicitor Salary Cap - a good idea?

The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority have recommended the removal of the training contract minimum salary, something that appears to have been broadly welcomed by a large number of organisations which include a significant number of vested interests, such as LPC providers. 

Is this a good thing? I don’t think so.  Probably a very controversial opinion, but I don’t think the legal profession as a whole can be trusted not to exploit potential trainee solicitors and take advantage of large numbers of desperate students and graduates who believe they need a training contract at all costs.

Furthermore, what on earth is the point of permitting law firms to effectively take on large numbers of low paid workers who can then be permitted to carry on and qualify as solicitors? Where does this leave the status of a newly qualified solicitor? Already in debt to the tune of around £25,000, NQ salaries in non-commercial practices are almost certain to plummet.

There are a good number of law firms out there whose sole purpose is to exploit just about everybody they have any contact with including their own workers, their clients and any third party such as the Legal Services Commission. These firms have to be regulated and monitored closely and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority appears to spend its vast majority of time trying to avoid undertaking too much work and keeping very close tabs on firms.

One area where a vulnerable workforce is in dire need of an external organisation keeping close tabs on their employer is trainee solicitors. Trainee solicitors are particularly vulnerable because they invariably have large debts, are in need of a training contract in order to progress their career and fairly naïve in terms of the work place and any work they are asked to do.

By removing the minimum salary cap from trainee solicitors the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority will be giving these firms carte blanche to recruit as many trainee solicitors as they wish on a ridiculously low salary, provide a so-called training contract which in reality is anything but and to send these people out into the work place 2 years later as fully qualified solicitors.

The SRA have had no thought at all into the future large numbers of trainee solicitors who are going to struggle to get a newly qualified position. Furthermore they have had no thought at all to the likely future salary of any newly qualified solicitor as chances are firms will be able to drop newly qualified salaries even further than they currently have because there will be so many desperate trainee solicitors looking for their first newly qualified position.

We already have a profession where entrants into the profession are some of the lowliest paid. It made me laugh recently to hear of the Police Federation vehemently protesting that they thought a fairly recently qualified police officer could be earning as little as £22,000, when I am regularly dealing with 5 year PQE conveyancing solicitors who earn less than that because their firms have either taken the opportunity to mercilessly exploit them by claiming they cannot afford any more or because market forces dictate that there is so little work out there at present, they simply cannot justify a salary higher than this.

I don’t think the legal profession is responsible enough to regular itself with minimum salaries for trainee solicitors and I think the removal of  the minimum salary is nothing short of a catastrophe for generations of younger potential solicitors to come.

Jonathan Fagan - MD of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment 

Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment - Online Legal Recruitment for Solicitors, Legal Executives, Fee Earners, Support Staff, Managers and Paralegals. Visit our Website to search or download our Vacancy Database or view our Candidate Database online.
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Julie Williams said…
I am writing to comment on your discussion of the removal of the minimum salary for trainee solicitors.

I am a former member of Middle Temple's Hall Committee and was a delegate to Middle Temple's Education Committee, although I write in a personal capacity.

I agree that some firms will exploit this, as part of a pattern of exploitative employment practices and commercial behaviour. I agree also that there is a strong likelihood that this will bring a downward trend, possibly a sharply downward trend in NQ salaries.

However, I think it would put this in a useful context to consider the effect on i) lifetime earnings; and ii) earnings over a 10 year period from qualification, as well as trainee and NQ salary / income, in comparison with would-be entrants completing, at thier own expense, the LPC or the BVC / BPTC only to find they cannot obtain training contracts / pupillage and have expensively qualified only to be able to obtain employmeent - ofteen at little above the minimum wage as a paralegal or assistant. Having to do unfunded training contract / pupillage but get your own practice certificate, a point out which you have more and better options both within and without independent practice and outside as well as inside the UK, might well be ahead of a lifetime of paralegalling?

At the Bar we are begging for chambers, especially small chambers to be allowed to give unfunded pupillages so that entrants can complete the qualifications they have already worked hard for.

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