I remember when I became an Articled clerk in the 1970s I was paid the princely sum of £14 per week. This was for the compulsory two years of work in a solicitors’ firm which has to be completed before somebody can be admitted as a solicitor. When I asked for a rise after a year I went up to £18 and was reminded by my bosses that they had had to pay for the privilege back in their day!
To be honest I managed. But they were distant days when law students did not have massive loans of up to £50k to repay.
This is now known as a Training Contract. In more enlightened days a minimum salary was introduced as it was felt that firms could exploit the need for such a contract by offering very low pay. The current minimum salary levels are £18,590 in Central London and £16,650 outside of London. These are certainly not excessive rates for somebody with a degree and a postgraduate professional qualification.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has this week confirmed plans to abolish this minimum requirement and rely instead on the National Minimum Wage, currently £6.08 an hour or just over £11k per annum.
For someone who has studied for between 4 and 5 years and run up huge student debts this seems derisory.
There are those who argue that this deregulation of Trainee pay is a good thing. They say that if firms can pay what they like then more students will get contracts – at the present time about 50% of students find Training contracts. But I’m afraid that argument just doesn’t make sense. You might as well argue that there should be no minimum wage in any sector and that the unemployment rates would drop if employers could pay workers a wages below a basic level.
But this raises a bigger issue.
Students from wealthier families will probably manage with from their own resources or with support from their families. Those from lower income families will not. A student who has to rely on huge borrowing to get the academic qualification and then survive a training contract at this level is going to be sorely tempted to pursue a different career!
There is a serious risk that we could go back to the days when the law was a career for the rich. This is a backward step and will simply put more pressure on students.