Young lawyers are far from cashing in on law's gravy train
Solicitors criticised for their pay packets should remember the social and economic contribution they have made, says Bryan Scant
For the second time in very recent history, a major tabloid has taken aim at the English legal system in spectacular fashion – targeting solicitors and barristers and the turnover they generate. It appears that now more than ever before, legal professionals in England and Wales are being lambasted for their salaries, but is it true that we are overpaid?
There are many lawyers who are well remunerated for the work they carry out, but how accurate is the assertion that we are making so much more money than before?
There were 142,109 solicitors in April 2015. The Junior Lawyers Division represents approximately 70,000 members from LPC students to solicitors of up to five years PQE, many of whom are included in the 142,109 above. When a JLD Twitter survey was carried out in October 2016 asking trainee solicitors how much they earned, 42 per cent of respondents said they earned less than £18,153, with 21 per cent earning between £18,183 and £20,276.
While those who responded are only a small snapshot of the profession, it does demonstrate that junior lawyers at least aren’t earning quite as much as some may believe.
The JLD has been vocal in recent years over the remuneration of trainee solicitors, since the removal of the minimum salary for trainees. Many newer trainees are being paid less than those who started just a few years before them. This is not symptomatic of a profession with burgeoning salaries. Despite this, the number of applicants for training contracts continues to increase. The Law Society has produced a good practice guide to address this, and reviews it every year to ensure it remains relevant with firms.
Let’s not forget that most of us, whatever area we practise in, and contrary to popular belief, don’t join the profession to ‘cash in’, but through having a passion to help those who need help. Legal aid cuts are not just reducing the income for those firms whose work is predominantly publicly funded, but also means that for many people, access to justice is increasingly more difficult.
Much has been made of domestic violence victims being subject to distressing cross-examination by their ex-partners, resulting in reports that the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, is seeking to introduce emergency legislation making such cross-examination illegal in the family courts, as it already is in criminal courts.
Reductions in the legal aid budget have been blamed for increasing the number of litigants in person in family proceedings, which has led to these situations becoming more prevalent. Many lawyers protested against the cuts to the legal aid budget in 2015, not through a selfish desire to prevent reductions in their fees, but to protect the right for those who need it to have access to justice.
Lawyers across the country spend years studying, training, and working long hours to ensure they are acting in their clients’ best interests. They help their clients achieve something: the purchase of a company, resolving a bitter divorce, buying their first home. We take great care and pride in our work and we have not jumped on any ‘gravy train’. When we are criticised so publicly, it is important for us to remember the social and economic contribution that we make.
Bryan Scant is chair of the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society