Wednesday 02 May 2012 by John Hyde

Removing the trainee minimum salary will increase training opportunities but at a cost of lower wages, a survey has found.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority polled firms, trainees and students to find the impact of de-regulating the minimum salary requirement. Currently firms have to pay their trainees £16,650 a year, rising to £18,590 in London. While large City or national firms would be unaffected, the lower tier of the market, which employs around 42% of trainees, said they would be interested in offering more training contracts. More than two-thirds of firms with no trainees said they would seriously consider launching a training scheme.

But the SRA's impact assessment said it was 'likely' that firms starting to offer training contracts would do so at salaries below the existing minimum. For small firms already offering training contracts, one-third would 'seriously consider' increasing the number, although the report noted that 'the majority would pay their trainees below £16,650'.

The impact would be felt most by female and BME trainees, who are more likely to have training contracts with small firms. Around half the trainees, students and paralegals surveyed were also concerned that their access to the profession could be restricted.

Many of these respondents indicated that if their wages were to fall they would not be earning a 'liveable salary'. The impact assessment added: 'Survey results suggest that removing the minimum salary may discourage individuals from less wealthy backgrounds from pursuing a career as a solicitor.

'To the extent that this is not counter-balanced by an expansion in training contracts available and taken up by equality groups, deregulation may reduce diversity in the profession.'

The open consultation attracted 130 responses (emailed or wrote in etc); more than 60 people attended the limited-space workshops, and 1,309 responded to the online survey. Comments are invited on the impact assessment until 11 May, with the SRA Board due to discuss it at its meeting on 16 May.

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