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Thursday 17 May 2012

Law - a Career for the rich?

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.


  1. I agree completely Steve. It took me £47,000 worth of debt to qualify as a lawyer - imagine trying to get a mortgage, save for a marriage or even pay into a pension when you have to do that just to qualify as a lawyer with no guarantee of obtaining a training contract at the end? I fear the way we are headed the law will become a profession regulated, interpreted and operated by the rich for the benefit of the rich only. That can not be right.

  2. Yes - there is no way that could have qualified and survived if I was doing it now!

  3. I guess at EAD solicitors you'll be paying a decent training salary then and defying the Solicitor's Regulation Authority?

    I think that law has a high barrier of entry as it is and this is just adding to it. That seems a shame. But I wonder how much sympathy the young lawyers will get. Can't trainee doctors, teachers, or even kids doing their first degree argue they are in the same boat?

  4. It isnt a question of defying the SRA but just paying a fair rate to someone who has worked their socks off and run up huge debts. And yes that goes for other professionals too....

  5. I'm an LPC student and incredibly saddened by this news. I feel this will severely restrict diversity within a profession, which is at times nearing an "old boys club" in any case. I am even more astonished by some of my fellow students' attitude to this, who simply see the short game in a potential increase in employment opportunities.

    I don't buy into the fact that there will be a noticeable increase in training contracts as some claim, but I've heard some students commenting that if students are passionate about a career in law, they'll take any salary. I'm not sure what ridiculous middle class bubble these people live in, but many "good" (as well as not so good) universities are set to increase fees to 9k per year. Add the undergrad debt plus maintenance allowance; reduced funding options for the LPC and a deregulation of the minimum salary; how is law a viable option for a student from a low income family? From entering the LPC to commencing training, it seems now to be the test of who can afford to be a solicitor rather than who has the qualities to be a successful solicitor.

  6. Great points there. It will be a sad day for students and also for the profession.

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