The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has suspended its policy of increasing the minimum salary for trainee solicitors for the second year running, a move reluctantly accepted by the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division (JLD).
Since August 2009, the minimum salary for trainees in central London has been £18,590, with a recommended salary of £19,040. Elsewhere in England and Wales, the minimum is £16,650, and the recommended level £16,940.
Back in 2007, after a consultation which showed continuing support for the minimum salary,
the SRA board said it should be reviewed every year based on the average retail prices index (RPI) for the year.
This was modified in 2009, in light of the recession, to apply the RPI at the end of the previous year. At the time the SRA said: “We intend to review this approach annually, taking into account any changes to the economic conditions affecting the profession, from 2010 onwards.”
The SRA’s education and training committee – supported by the board – decided to suspend this policy last year in light of the economic conditions, and has done so again this year.
An SRA spokeswoman said: “The SRA has decided to continue with the freezing of the trainees’ minimum salary levels, due to the exceptional economic conditions. The policy of increases in line with the RPI is currently suspended due to the economic downturn. Each year, the decision is carefully reviewed in the light of its impact on both trainees and employers.”
JLD chairwoman Judith Perkins said it agreed with the decision, which she acknowledged “might seem a little surprising at first”.
She explained: “We are very alive to the fact that many of our members have incurred significant debts as a result of the legal education process, and of course we are firmly opposed to any law firm seeking to take advantage of someone’s desire for a training contract by offering to pay a pittance in return for two years of extremely hard graft “However, feedback from many of our members this year has been overwhelming concern regarding the disparity between the number of LPC graduates and the number of training contracts.
“It would be incredibly disheartening for those seeking training contracts to see their chances of obtaining one diminished further due to firms (particularly those in sectors such as legal aid – already hard hit by recent cuts) having to reduce the number of training contracts they offer because they simply cannot afford a higher minimum salary in the current economic climate.
“Also, the sad fact is that many of those applying for training contracts have said that they would not think twice about accepting a training contract at the minimum salary or less so they could qualify as a solicitor.”
Ms Perkins added that “once the dust settles on the recession, the JLD will of course be reconsidering its position”.