The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has proposed scrapping the minimum salary for trainee solicitors. Young Legal Aid Lawyers is deeply concerned about the proposal and how it will impact on access to and social mobility within the profession.
The barriers faced by those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who want to practice law are already far greater than most other professions. This has been exacerbated by the increase in tuition fees and compounded by the uncertainty faced by the publicly-funded side of the profession. Trainee solicitors in legal aid firms are often paid the minimum salary because firms cannot afford to pay more and as such the minimum salary is an essential safeguard to junior members of the profession.
If the protection of the minimum salary were no longer there only the national minimum wage would protect trainees' wages, which for a 35-hour working week equates to £11,065. This, in the context of the ever-rising cost of legal education, is wholly inadequate and would effectively exclude all but the most wealthy from entering this vital area of law.
We are also concerned about the knock-on effects to other junior lawyers working in legal aid. Paralegals' wages are to an extent calculated in relation to what trainees are paid. YLAL fears that the removal of the minimum salary will lead to financially pushed firms reducing both.
Without some assurance of a manageable wage, practising legal aid law, like the access to justice it tries to protect, will become the preserve of the rich.
The timing of the consultation is especially unhelpful given that many of the interested representative bodies are presently concentrating their limited resources on fighting the serious legal aid cuts proposed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that is at a crucial stage in Parliament. YLAL is also disappointed that the SRA has decided to consult on abolishing the minimum salary for trainee solicitors at this time even though the last consultation in 2007 showed overwhelming support for keeping the scheme.
The consultation documents are available from the SRA website and the consultation closes on 10 April 2012. We would encourage members to respond directly. However, we are also interested in hearing from you so that you can inform YLAL’s formal response, particularly if you are a paralegal or caseworker aiming to qualify as a solicitor. To let us know your views, please email email@example.com with “trainee minimum salary” in the subject header.
UPDATE - the SRA is holding focus groups to talk about the SRA proposal to scrap the minimum salary. There will be four locations (Guildford on 29 Feb & 1 March, London on 5 & 6 March, Cardiff on 7 & 8 March and Manchester on 13 & 14 March) all to be held 6-8pm with light refreshments. We would encourage members to attend the groups to raise their concerns about the proposal.
If you are interested in attending please contact Kay Page at the SRA directly on firstname.lastname@example.org