In November 2015, the Law Society of England and Wales (The Law Society) introduced a recommendation that trainee solicitors in England and Wales should be paid a minimum of £20,276 in London and £18,183 outside of London, this, following a successful campaign by the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society in 2014/15. These figures are considered the minimum that trainee solicitors should be paid in order to sustain themselves throughout their two year period of training and make repayments on their post graduate borrowing.
To become a solicitor in England and Wales it is necessary to take either a Qualifying Law Degree (LLB) or the GDL (a one year postgraduate conversion course), followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC), followed by a two year period of training, known as a Period of Recognised Training or, historically, a training contract. In certain circumstances, a trainee solicitor can have their period of training reduced by six months and their training must ensure that they work in both contentious and non-contentious areas of law, known as seats.
Prior to 1 August 2014, firms were required to pay their trainee solicitors at least £18,590 if they were in Central London, and £16,650 elsewhere. On 1 August 2014, the Solicitors Regulation Authority – the regulatory body for solicitors in England and Wales – replaced this with a requirement that firms pay trainee solicitors at least the national hourly minimum wage (£6.70 per hour). The Junior Lawyers Division feared that this would lead to a reduction in salaries for those who were only paid the minimum and would risk many being discouraged from entering the profession due to the likely costs they would incur in undertaking their LPC, often resulting in loan repayments of £300+ per month. Law Society research into the issue found that those from less affluent backgrounds would suffer the most, including a disproportionate reduction in the representation of those from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background.
In early 2015, the Law Society and the Junior Lawyers Division – the community for LPC students, LPC graduates, trainee solicitors and solicitors up to five years qualified – ran a consultation on the introduction of a recommended minimum salary for trainee solicitors, with the results of that consultation in favour of the introduction of the recommendation.
The introduction of the recommended minimum salary is aimed at increasing diversity in the legal profession in England and Wales and encouraging those from a lower socio-economic background to enter the profession. By any economic model, if the solicitors’ profession were to reduce the salary offered to trainee solicitors at graduate level, the number of aspiring solicitors who can afford to enter the profession would decrease. It must then be considered where the drop in demand would come from. The answer is probably that the drop will come from individuals who are less able to afford to take a job or repay student loans at a lower wage.
The recommended minimum salary is based on the Living Wage – a wage calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK – and average repayment of law school costs. If firms comply with this recommended minimum salary, the intention is that this will enable social mobility to be improved in the profession by making a career in law affordable for all.
It is too early to say whether the introduction of the recommendation has had a positive effect; however, it is without a doubt a step in the right direction. Of course there are sound commercial reasons for social mobility, which many firms and employers around the country accept. By creating a profession that is open to all, the profession will attract the best calibre of candidates in all areas of practice. Firms, the profession as a whole, and consumers of legal services will all benefit.
Bryan is the 2015 vice chair of the Junior Lawyers Division and a solicitor at Lester Aldridge LLP specialising in family law, based in Bournemouth, England.