More than half of young legal aid lawyers earn less than £25,000, according to YLAL
More than one in four young legal aid lawyers began their careers with over £35,000 of debt as a result of their studies. According to the Young Legal Aid lawyers’ new social mobility survey, those attending private schools had on average nearly £10,000 less debt than those from comprehensives. The research which drew on 200 responses found that more than one quarter of members (27%) had study-related debts of over £35,000, an increase of 12% from the previous 2013 study. You can download the report (Social Mobility in a Time of Austerity) here.
The group reckons that low salaries continue to be ‘a significant barrier’ to lawyers aspiring to work in the legal aid sector. More than half of respondents (53%) reported that they were earning less than £25,000. YLAL members have to be less than 10 years post-qualification. The group is calling on firms to ‘reconsider the wages’ they pay all staff taking into account the ‘real’ living wage as set by the Living Wage Foundation.
One in ten the YLAL respondents were unpaid; one third were earning less than £20,000; and less than one in five (17%) earned over £35,000.
‘If I’m lucky I could be a qualified solicitor in the LA sector by the time I’m 30. That is my goal,’ one lawyer told the group. ‘Meanwhile my peers will be qualifying in 2017, at the age of 25 with a qualifying salary that is probably double what I will ever earn. It is extremely, extremely disheartening. I work as hard or harder as my friends in the commercial sector but for far less money. It is tempting to leave the legal aid profession for the commercial legal sector.’
We believe that the legal profession – like the justice system – should be open to all. We are deeply concerned that, as with our first report, aspiring lawyers from diverse backgrounds are finding it harder than ever to forge a career in legal aid. Unless the issues within this report are addressed, retention of talent in the legal aid sector will become a bigger issue and social mobility within the profession will be greatly compromised.
According to the report, the Solicitors Regulation Authority decision to scrap the mandatory minimum salary for trainees had ‘undoubtedly’ had an impact on the level of pay offered to new trainees in the legal aid sector. ‘Additionally, cuts to legal aid have constrained the budgets of legal aid firms and as a result, wages for trainees in the sector is very low,’ the group said. ‘This means that financial difficulties affecting firms is filtering down to those training or newly qualified into the sector.’
The group points out that whilst trainee solicitors must be paid at least the national minimum wage, the minimum pupillage award at £12,000 is below that figure. Almost two thirds of respondents (65%) believed that there should be a minimum salary in place for trainee solicitors.
Another ‘barrier’ was unpaid work experience. Three-quarters of respondents had at some point undertaken some form of unpaid legal work experience. That represented a 14% drop on the 2013survey however it was not clear why (there was no increase in respondents undertaking expenses-only or paid work experience). ‘Firms and chambers need to unite in ruling out unpaid work experience as exploitative and potentially unlawful,’ one lawyer told YLAL.
This article first appeared on Legal Voice on March 15, 2015