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Trainee minimum pay: a disgraceful decision - May-24-12
Source: The Times - Law
Hekim Hannan, the chairman of the Junior Lawyers Division, on the dangers of abolishing the trainee minimum salary
It is nothing short of disgraceful that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has voted to abolish the trainee minimum salary in two years’ time. It has effectively slammed the door shut in the faces of those from lower socioeconomic groups trying to enter the profession: £6.08 an hour for a 35-hour week is a salary of £11,065 a year and a monthly take-home of £838.02.
How will someone without parental support manage to fund the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and then, if they are lucky, obtain a training contract at minimum wage? The loan repayments on the LPC are in the region of £300 to £400 a month. That leaves a little over £400 a month to live on, not taking into account any overdrafts, credit cards or other student debts that may be immediately due.
Furthermore, most trainee solicitors work more than 35 hours a week but it is unlikely that they will ever complain as they will be in danger of jeopardising their future careers. Exploitation for the most vulnerable in our profession will be open to abuse.
Those from lower socioeconomic groups will have to take on one or more jobs while they are studying, which will inevitably have an impact on their results and their future careers. The profession is difficult enough at the moment to enter for those from lower socioeconomic groups. This decision by the SRA is the final nail in the coffin for those with the work ethic and aspirations to enter the profession without the financial backing.
The whole process, from consultation, review and decision, has taken place within four months. The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has spoken to its members at events and put together a detailed response to both the consultation and the Equality Impact Assessment. The only reason that some people thought abolishing the minimum salary might be for the good is that it may possibly increase training contracts. However, against this, not a single firm has stated that a new training contract will be produced. Furthermore, if any training contracts are forthcoming they are likely to be at the lower end of the salary range, which would “price out” all but the wealthy. There have been some recent inroads in social mobility but this is a step backwards. It makes the Legal Education and Training Review and the development of more financially viable routes into the profession even more important.
It feels as though the decision was already made and the rushed consultation process was nothing more than the SRA “going though the motions”. The consultation, the press release following the equality impact assessment and even their agenda notes for their board meeting were heavily biased towards abolition, giving far more weight to anything that supported its decision and paying only lip-service, or ignoring, the real impacts of abolition.
The SRA board haven’t made any direct contact with the JLD and brushed off our Freedom of Information requests. Myself and vice-chairman Heather Iqbal-Rayner met a couple of board members at an SRA event in the Commons in February this year. We felt that their minds had already been made up with weak arguments, such as that they didn’t have a minimum salary in their day, that they have to cut costs and think of their shareholders, and other such statements. We also felt that they were in no mood to listen or debate. They were under the misapprehension that there would be more training contracts but were unable to provide evidence of any firm that would guarantee more training contracts.
As for their board meeting, with it being a public meeting in part, we would have thought that the SRA would have extended an invitation to the JLD for us to attend, given that its decision directly affects our members and we have been described as a “key stakeholder”. But there was no invitation, we happened by chance to realise that there would be a public section of the meeting a few days beforehand and we contacted the SRA and notified it of our intention to attend. They weren’t welcoming; it was almost as though they didn’t want us there.
The JLD is taken from and represents the junior end of the profession and is completely in touch with our membership. Is the SRA board in touch with those entering the profession? From this decision it shows that they are clueless and completely out of touch with the most vulnerable of those whom they regulate.
Hekim Hannan is solicitor and chairman of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD)
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