Thursday, 19 April 2012

The apprentice

Ask any business owner what they expect to get for £2.60 an hour.

If they told you “an intelligent and ambitious youngster who has completed four of six years training including a university degree and a year of vocational study” would that surprise you?

Of course it would. It’s a ridiculous proposition. 

For three decades trainee solicitors emerging into the real world for their final two years ‘on the job’ before joining the profession have been protected from exploitation by minimum salary regulations. Outside London the current rate is £16,650 or – based on a 40 hour week – a little over £8 an hour.

The basic minimum wage is about 75% of that but you don’t need a degree and more to earn it (not yet anyway).

Let’s just observe at this point that these, in the main young, people will have spent four (further) years after sixth form studies earning nothing. In fact they will have stacked up on average around £25,000 of debt by the time they have finished. This figure will double for those who are able to reach the same position three or four years from now.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”) is presently considering the abolition of the minimum salary for trainee solicitors. In the course of the consultation process attention has been drawn to the fact that trainees during the first of their two years would be entitled to a minimum of only £2.60 an hour being the rate allowed for an apprentice.

The SRA justifies its review by saying that the minimum salary does not promote the objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007. If it provides incentive and optimism for determined and talented young people, then that must be right.

Richard Moorhead, Professor of Law at Cardiff University, has noted “a strong correlation between low pay and very poor training” in his research. Informed opinion of that calibre is no less valuable where, in my humble view, it’s unsurprising.

Peanuts and monkeys. It’s a growing problem for the legal profession, for the industry and ultimately for justice and society.

Short term it’s astonishing that the organization (I use the term very loosely indeed) charged with regulating us all has to admit that this issue only emerges after it floated the proposal:

“Since publication of its consultation document on its role in setting the minimum salary for trainees, the SRA has been continuing with its due diligence activities. This has included a detailed examination of the legal framework which would apply if the current minimum salary requirements were removed. 

Advice has been received that trainees would be classed as apprentices within the terms of the National Minimum Wage Regulations. The Regulations would apply a rate of £2.60 per hour for apprentices in their first year”

In other words, until somebody else said something it hadn’t occurred to them?

Maybe there’s a strong argument that even £2.60 an hour is over the odds in some cases. No doubt that will appeal to Clarke, Bojangley and chums.


Graham Whittaker said...

The £2.60 is for 16-17 year olds undertaking apprenticeships. I intend no disrespect to the type of people undertaking this type of apprenticeship and in fact have a) the greatest of respects and b) encouraged my son to go down this route. However, the fact is that at 16-17, you do not have debts and liabilities to pay things like rent, mortgage, kids etc, and so whilst £2.60 is not much, the rate is defendable. However, for law graduates, it is inexcusable. This will put off people from studying law more than university fees.

Dylan White said...

This is exactly the reason why, after returning to do a law degree part time, (which is due to finish this summer), I have decided in all probability not to pursue a training contract.

I am currently a business development manager at a mid/senior level and simply cannot afford the drop in salary as things stand. If the minimum £16/17k salary is removed then it will surely mean the end of mature entrants like me coming into the legal profession and the legal profession will be worse off for that loss. Mature trainees often bring to a firm commercial experience, a responsible attitude, established work-ethic, business acumen, commitment, integrity... the list goes on.

The legal industry prefers, it would seem, armies of homogeneous drones so desperate for a ticket to the game they will accept almost any conditions in order to get a training contract.

Thanks but no thanks.

Anonymous said...

For those of use who are slightly (!) older than those without the cares of life (mortgages/kids etc), a TC salary is abysmally low. That's if, and it's a big if, you actually manage to get the TC in the first place.

I agree with Mr White, the industry does seem to prefer "mini-me" applicants. Mature students beware!