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Trainee Minimum Salary Continues To Provoke Debate – Opinion Piece By Law Graduate

Mathew Clapham LLB, Business Law Graduate of Aberystwyth University, writes his opinion on the trainee minimum salary.

Mathew is welcoming any response to his article – you can tweet him @mathewclapham.

Prior to setting out my opinion on the recent announcement on 16th May by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) regarding the removal of the trainee minimum salary, I wish to briefly set out my own personal background and the path which I followed in order to get where I am today.

Mathew Clapham discusses the removal of the trainee minimum wage

Mathew Clapham discusses the removal of the trainee minimum wage

I am a twenty-two year old graduate of Aberystwyth University with an upper second class honour degree in Business Law who lives in a small town in the South Wales valleys. I have yet to study the LPC but will definitely be doing so in the future, despite the SRAs announcement, as I have a desire to become a commercial solicitor. I did not go to a private school, I was not born into the profession and there is certainly no silver spoon in my mouth! I am the first member of my family to attend university and have been very fortunate to receive and to continue to receive the support they have given me during my pursuit to seek qualification as a solicitor.

The Problem of the Trainee Minimum Salary

Overall I see far more positives than negatives in the removal of the trainee minimum salary. Why? Nobody can deny that there is a current crisis, which sadly is probably only going to get worse before it gets better in the coming years regardless of this announcement, at the entry level point of the legal profession. This is especially the case for LPC graduates and budding solicitors in the seemingly impossible quest to obtain a training contract. Put simply the entry level market of the legal profession is grossly oversaturated—for reasons which I have been given far too few words to discuss in this brief opinion— and steps need to be taken to address this.

Trainee Minimum Salary – A Solution

One such step to help elevate the problem outlined above is to facilitate the conditions for firms to offer more training contracts which I believe the SRAs decision will do rather effectively. More training contracts will be available as a result of the decision. Accepted, trainees will most likely be paid slightly lower salaries but so be it.

Firm’s budgets are already under pressure due to the currently bleak economic climate which will only get worse and this means that firms are finding it difficult to maintain current staffing levels let alone take on and develop new trainees. From 1st August 2014 when the minimum salary requirement will be removed, such tough financial decisions taken by firms when deciding whether to train and develop new staff will be somewhat easier. At present it is not good economics for firms to invest £16,650 (£18,590 within London) of their money along with their time into developing new solicitors when they can simply employ an equally capable Paralegal to do a trainee’s job.

Yes, trainees will be paid less but for most who are serious about becoming a solicitor they are probably currently either stuck in a Paralegal job on £13k+ a year or stuck applying for such roles anyway. This way, even if a trainee is being paid the equivalent average salary of a Paralegal today, AT LEAST they will be getting trained and ever closer to their first NQ role at which point their salary will most likely increase relatively substantially.

Removal Of Trainee Minimum Salary – Addressing the concerns of Students

I would like to address some of the concerns which I have seen raised by many students and individuals criticising the SRAs decision to abolish the trainee minimum salary. The first and probably most common criticism I have seen expressed by students is “why should I pay all that money to try to become a solicitor when a firm will only pay me the minimum wage when I’m training?”.

It is important to understand and realise that most firms will pay a salary which is greater than that of the minimum wage. Think about it, most Paralegals are on above minimum wage salaries at the moment. Then ask the question of whether or not firms would pay trainees less? Paralegals may take a hit with future roles being offered at minimum wage levels but future trainees I believe will not be earning less than a current Paralegal.

Furthermore there is the issue of negative PR which a reputable firm would take into account if hiring a trainee on the minimum wage. These students also fail to consider the longer term benefits of becoming a qualified solicitor. Yes it will be tough getting there and there may be student loans, bank loans etc. but without achieving LLB and LPC qualifications, most people can only dream about earning a £30k or £40k+ salary in the future.

Finally on this criticism I wish to address those who raise the issue of trainees being paid the apprentice minimum wage level of just £2.60 an hour. In my opinion this is nothing but utter nonsense and scaremongering as no reputable and decent law firm would pay this wage to trainees.

Secondly there is the concern that the decision will have a negative impact on social mobility within the legal profession. This decision does not relate to social mobility whatsoever. In order to make the legal profession more accessible further funding needs to be provided in order to allow individuals who are not fortunate enough to afford to go to university or who may not benefit from the support of their family like I have to achieve LLB and LPC qualifications.

It does not matter if you pay a trainee £100k a year if someone from a less privileged background cannot achieve the qualifications to become a trainee in the first place. Hence, the removal of the minimum wage for trainees should not impact on social mobility within the legal profession.

Finally, there is the question of young graduates ‘making a living’ on the minimum wage. This is a problem which is rife throughout the UK, particularly with graduates, and though unacceptable, is not restricted solely to law graduates.

Trainee Minimum Salary – Opposing Views

Sarah Healey is a current LPC student at the College of Law in Chester and disagrees with the decision to remove the trainee minimum salary.

She expressed her views to DG Academy:

“I think the removal of the trainee minimum salary is unfair and unjust on so many levels. For many law graduates the whole process to qualification is an uphill struggle.

”First, there’s the minimum of three years in university, then the one year LPC, or, like many a two year part-time LPC whilst working along side it to fund the extortionate fees and then there’s a long wait for a training contract and constant applications. Let’s not forget when finally granted a training contract, the further two years of training until qualified.

”This is not to mention the thousands of pounds worth of debt we incur. It’s easy for other professions to say “well there is no protection in other fields of expertise so why should there be in law?” but just to note, law is classified as one of the most difficult degrees and professions out there.

”To then be told, having gone through so many years of studying and hard work that you will earn less than people without any qualifications and experience whatsoever is deplorable. Many say after the LPC there is light at the end of the tunnel. But is there? To be hit with news that I’ll be earning £11,550 per year having trained to a post graduate level, to me, is like a slap in the face.”

Trainee Minimum Salary – Your Opinion

Are you for or against the removal of the trainee minimum salary? We published an article on this hot topic earlier today.  Tweet us your views @DG_Academy or join our Facebook Debate. If you would like to submit a piece to be considered for publication for our website please email Beth Nunnington at academy@duncangibbins.com 

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