SRA: trainees could be paid £2.60 an hour in first year if minimum salary is scrapped

Time is money: just not very much if minimum salary is scrapped

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to consider retaining the minimum salary for trainee solicitors at the level of the national minimum wage after discovering that without it trainees would be classed as apprentices and so could be paid just £2.60 an hour in their first year – less than £5,000.

The SRA is currently consulting on whether it should continue to set the minimum salary – having been clear that it does not think it should – and said the discovery came as it examined the legal framework which would apply if the minimum was abolished.

In a statement, the SRA said: “Advice has been received that trainees would be classed as apprentices within the terms of the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999. The regulations would apply a rate of £2.60 per hour for apprentices in their first year, and £6.08 per hour (the standard minimum wage) for subsequent years [around £12,000 a year].

“The board is keen to canvass views on the potential impact of deregulation of the minimum salary, as well as on an option to retain a prescribed minimum salary which is set at the level of the standard national minimum wage for the whole period of a training contract.

“The SRA’s concern, and that of all stakeholders, is to ensure that the profession continues to attract high-calibre, motivated students from a diverse range of backgrounds.”

However, the amended consultation paper says that the SRA board does not believe that the advice affects the regulatory arguments for a review of its role in the setting of a minimum salary.

Of the 9,088 trainees presently registered with the SRA, 30% receive the minimum salary. A higher proportion of black and minority ethnic trainees (42%) are paid the minimum salary than their white counterparts (27%).

Minimum trainee salaries, currently £18,590 in central London and £16,650 elsewhere, have been in force since 1982, long before the national minimum wage was introduced.

The Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) said the legal profession will be the “preserve of the rich” if trainees were paid £2.60 an hour for their first year.

Vice-chair Heather Iqbal-Rayner said: “Apprentice wages are designed for school leavers who are usually living with their parents and about to enter a profession. Solicitor trainees will have completed four, five or even six years of study by the time they begin a training contract and may have children and mortgages, not to mention a mountain of debt from studying.

“Implementing these changes will deter large numbers of people from entering the profession and have a negative, knock-on impact on equality and diversity.”

Last week the JLD issued a call for a delay to the consultation citing, amongst a range of issues, a lack of assessment on the impact the move would have on diversity and social mobility in the legal profession, and the fact that the Legal Education and Training Review is currently going on.



    Readers Comments

  • Lisa says:

    I have very mixed feelings about this. Being a law undergraduate about to finish my degree, and from a working class background, who has not recieved any financial help from my family, I can understand why the JLD would believe that keeping the minimum wage as is, would be beneficial to people like myself to achieve social mobility. However on the other hand, one must acknowledge that the amount of training contracts being offered currently has become limited. I will be leaving university without having secured a training contract and due to this I am very unsure about whether to persue the LPC, getting myself into more debt, when there is a strong possibility I will not secure a training contract at all within the 5 year period one would have to. Now one of the main reasons I believe that law firms are cutting back on training contracts or stopping them altogether or not applying to register with the SRA to actually offer them is because of the high starting salaries. I currently have a placement with a small high street firm and they have said to me that this is definately the case for them. The fact is with the economy still reeling from the downturn in 2008, penny pinching is definately a focus for law firms and if it keeps gong the way it is, there will be an over subscription of law graduates with no hope of actually getting into law because there will be limited training contracts, and obviousy we cannot qualify until we have completed that stage, sometimes i feel it would be better if we had a system like America, I do not feel it is fair that students have to fight for training contracts to qualify here, when the playing field regarding socio economic backgrounds is not a level playing field. we are all aware the more money you have the more oppertunities you seem to have, the better schools you get into, the better education you have, the more connections you make (because we all know law is about who you know, not what you know) it is very frustrating, there should be enough training contracts for everyone, or we should not have to do them, put simply. make all law firms that satisfy the criteria for the SRA take on at least one trainee, perhaps lower the wage but not quite so low as the minimum wage, at least make sure a person can live off that wage. There are just too many faults in our system, and for people like myself it is rather depressing, I mean what do we do seriously? we cant win, we have a high starting salary currently but not enough training contracts, if we start people on the minimum wage of the apprentiship wage to start with, then people will not be able to live unless you have a family that can support you. if I knew all of what I know now, I probably would have chosen a different degree, now all I can do is try and make the best of a bad situation as i know I cant win either way, I will probably not be able to continue in my path to become a solicitor an will have to try and find some other career.

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