The Young Legal Aid Lawyers has repeated calls for the reintroduction of a mandatory minimum salary after it was revealed that one in four trainee solicitors were paid below the recommended level. The Solicitors Regulation Authority scrapped the minimum salary for trainees in 2014 and now firms are required to pay only the national minimum wage.
According to a survey reported in the Law Society’s Gazette of approximately 500 trainees from across the UK, 25% of trainee solicitors are paid below the recommended minimum salary which actually represents an improvement on previous years, with 35% of trainees being paid below the recommended minimum in 2018.
The survey was carried out by a recruitment consultancy Douglas Scott. The Gazette quoted Jon-Paul Hanrahan, saying it was ‘good news… we have been tracking trainee pay awards for some time now and this year does feel different. Law firms have reacted positively to criticism, as our research also revealed that 45% of trainee solicitors received a pay rise this year compared to 35% in 2018 and for many it brought them above the threshold for the first time.’
Whilst YLAL welcomed the apparent progress – although it pointed out that it was unclear how many of those surveyed worked in legal aid firms – the group remained concerned that so many were still being paid below the recommended minimum and argued that low salaries was one of the main hurdles for young lawyers in the legal aid sector and represented a barrier to social mobility.
The YLAL response stressed that, although the findings of the survey suggested that the situation for trainees was improving, this was the result of step-changes implemented by organisations, rather than a centrally-organised policy. According to YLAL, the issue of low trainee salaries has plagued the legal profession for almost a decade. YLAL praised the Bar Standards Board’s decision to implement a minimum pupillage award and urges the SRA to reintroduce the mandatory minimum salary after it was removed in 2014.
YLAL repeated the recommendations made in its 2018 report ‘Social Mobility in a Time of Austerity’ calling on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to take firm action in this area.