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Anger as SRA scraps trainee minimum salary

Firms to pay minimum wage from August 2014

18 May 2012

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The SRA board voted unanimously this afternoon to scrap the minimum wage for trainee solicitors.
 

Abolition will be delayed for two years until 1 August 2014. From that date firms will be able to pay the national minimum wage of £6.08 per hour, but the regulator will ensure that the minimum wage of £2.60 per hour for apprentices does not apply.

The move has been strongly opposed by the Law Society and its Junior Lawyers Division.

JLD chair Hekim Hannan (pictured) said the SRA had “effectively slammed the door shut in the faces of those from lower socio-economic 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.”

“Those from lower socio-economic groups will have to work 1, 2 or 3 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 socio-economic groups”, Hannan continued. “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.”

Hannan, a solicitor in practice in Liverpool, said the decision to abolish the minimum salary for trainees had been rushed.

He accused the SRA of having made up its mind before the consultation process started, with the regulator just “going through the motions”.

The process showed the SRA was out of touch with the concerns of those entering the profession, Hannan suggested, adding the regulator was “clueless and completely out of touch with the most vulnerable of those who they regulate”.

Nobody at the board meeting spoke in favour of retaining the minimum salary.

Lucy Winskell, a pro vice chancellor at Northumbria University, said her law students were divided 50:50 on the issue.

“I formed a view that there are other, better, ways of dealing with the issue of diversity in profession,” she said.

Winskell said some newly qualified solicitors were having to accept salaries which were less than trainees.

“I am an optimist and prepared to trust those people who said to us ‘perhaps we might take on a trainee’.”

Sir Ron Watson, a lay board member, said the SRA’s impact assessment “pointed both ways” on the diversity issue.

“Given that there is an issue on diversity, is the minimum salary the optimum way of achieving it?

“Why should we be the only professional regulator in the country to impose a minimum wage higher than the statutory level?”

Sir Ron said there was an argument for imposing a minimum salary on the “whole profession” but the SRA should not “use the issue as a way of facing up” to the issue of diversity.

Charles Plant, chairman of the SRA, said he “hoped the Law Society and the SRA will do all they can to encourage firms, particularly the smaller firms, to take on trainees”.

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Verbatim || Hekim Hannan, JLD chair

It is nothing short of disgraceful that the SRA Board have voted to abolish the trainee minimum salary in 2 years’ time. They have effectively slammed the door shut in the faces of those from lower socio-economic 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.

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.

How will someone without parental support manage to fund the 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 - £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 maybe immediately due.

Those from lower socio-economic groups will have to work 1, 2 or 3 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 socio-economic 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 4 months. The JLD have spoken to their members at their 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 has been some recent inroads in social mobility but this is a step backwards. It makes the LETR and the development of more flexible and 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 their decision and paying only lip-service or ignoring the real impacts of abolition.

The JLD are taken from and represent the junior end of the profession and are completely in touch with our membership; are 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 who they regulate.

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