The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has decided that it will not oblige firms and organisations to pay trainee solicitors anything more than the National Minimum Wage after 1 August 2014. We understand (from reports of the Board meeting) that the SRA still intends to regulate this issue because of the concern that trainee solicitors fall within the definition of an "apprentice" under the National Minimum Wage Regulations. Without some regulation by the SRA trainees could be paid the apprentice rate of pay for their first 12 months of the training contract. At the moment this rate is £2.60 per hour. From reports of the SRA Board meeting it would appear that the Board members were concerned that trainees could be paid at that low level.
YLAL is very disappointed at the SRA Board's decision. In our response to the SRA's consultation we argued for the retention of the minimum salary on the basis that it provides an important safeguard that protects against exploitation and contributes to social mobility and diversity within the legal sector. The SRA seems to have forgotten that part of its role is to encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession.
In relation to the legal aid sector we warned that paying trainees at the National Minimum Wage rate would deter good quality individuals from entering this crucial area of work for vulnerable clients. It seems our concerns for the legal aid sector were ignored.
Connor Johnston, co-chair of YLAL commented:"Scrapping the minimum salary for trainee solicitors is a huge step backward. It will mean that parts of the legal sector will be completely closed off to anyone not from a wealthy background. Who is going to be able to afford to pay £30,000 in University tuition fees, followed by £13,000 on the LPC only to earn the same as they would get working in McDonalds? The SRA seems to believe that more training contracts will be offered if they scrap the minimum salary but they are missing the point entirely. A valuable safeguard ensuring that access to the profession is based on merit and commitment rather than means, has been abolished. It seems astonishing that the SRA believes that this could somehow be in the public interest."