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SRA calls for abolition of minimum salary for trainees

11 January 2012

The SRA has backed abolition of the minimum salary for trainee solicitors and suggested that they could instead be paid the national minimum wage.

In a consultation paper launched this afternoon, the regulator argued that the minimum salary for trainees was introduced in 1982, before the arrival of the national minimum.

The minimum salary for trainees is currently set at £18,590 in central London and £16,650 outside, for the year from 1 August 2011 to 1 August 2012.

The rate is unchanged from the previous year. The national minimum wage for those aged 21 and above is £6.08 per hour.

“Our consultation paper explains that there is no clear evidence that setting a minimum salary for trainees fulfils any of the regulatory objectives within the Legal Services Act,” SRA executive director Samantha Barrass said.

“We do not regulate prices, including rate of pay, in any other area of our work. We have compared the practice with other professional regulators and found very few examples where this occurs.

“It would appear that setting a minimum salary does not address any identified risk to the public interest or the rule of law, nor is it clear that it improves access to the profession.”

In the consultation paper SRA officials said the minimum salary was “out of step” with outcomes-focused regulation and the SRA did not attempt to control the legal employment market “in any other way”.

They went on: “We do not, for example, set minimum salaries for anyone else providing legal services in a firm we might regulate or minimum salaries for the provision of particular legal services.

“We have also looked at the practice in other professions which shows that, with the exception of the Bar Standards Board, no other regulator included in the sample prescribes, or suggests, a minimum salary for trainees.

“The SRA board is of the view, therefore, that there is no clear regulatory justification for the SRA to continue to set a minimum salary for trainees and we would welcome your views on the prospect of deregulation in this area.”

Officials said 30 per cent of trainees were paid just above the minimum wage, but if it was abolished they would still be “protected” by a national minimum wage of £6.08 per hour.

“The potential for employers to reduce salary levels in the event of deregulation must be balanced against the fact that the existence of a prescribed minimum salary level that is higher than the national minimum wage could also be acting as a deterrent to some firms taking on trainees.

“Deregulation could have a positive effect if some firms decide to start taking trainees or decide to take on more trainees than they might have done if the minimum requirement remained in force.

“Currently, many LPC graduates do obtain legal employment, but as paralegals rather than trainees. The minimum salary requirement may be a factor in employers choosing to employ graduates in this way.”

The SRA last considered abolishing the minimum salary in 2007, but decided against it after a consultation showed overwhelming support to prevent exploitation of trainees and improve access to the profession (see solicitorsjournal.com, 5 June 2007).

The SRA’s latest consultation paper revealed that 42 per cent of BME trainees were paid the minimum salary, compared to 27 per cent of white trainees.

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