Trainee solicitors across Scotland are set to benefit after the Law Society of Scotland agreed an increase to both its recommended and mandatory minimum pay rates.
The Law Society’s Council has agreed that, from April 2016, only trainee contracts that are at or above the Living Wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, will be accepted. The Council also agreed to bring the recommended pay rate to £17,545 for first year trainees and £21,012 for second year trainees, from June 2016.
The decisions follow over a year of research into trainee remuneration including a survey of 650 solicitors, student and trainees on the recommended rate. Over 70% of respondents supported moving the lowest salary the Society would accept to at least the Living Wage.
The Society’s recommended rate is not compulsory, though it is often used as a benchmark for employers. It is for individual law firms or in-house employers to decide how much they pay trainee solicitors over the mandatory minimum pay rate, which has been set at the National Minimum Wage since 2012.
Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “This decision means that future traineeship contracts will only be registered by Society if payment is at or above the Living Wage recommended by the Living Wage Foundation. Pay rates for trainee solicitors are an issue of fundamental importance to the reputation of the profession. We have carefully considered the issues involved and agreed that it is vital to the wellbeing of trainee solicitors and to the long-term ability of the profession to attract talent to raise both the recommended and mandatory minimum pay rates.
“We need to strike the right balance when setting the recommended rate for trainee salaries. Trainees are the future of our profession and we want them to be paid properly for the work they do. However we know that while there has been an improvement in the economy, which has undoubtedly contributed to the increased number of traineeships on offer, employers continue to have to control their costs, including salaries.
“The reality is that today’s law graduates have more choice than ever before in terms of what kind of career they want to pursue. Around half choose not to join the solicitors’ profession and new roles, such as legal analyst positions, offer an alternative and attractive career path in law. We need to do what we can to ensure that we continue to attract high calibre individuals to the profession, which includes maintaining competitive pay rates.
“It remains the case that some law firms simply cannot afford to afford to take on a trainee. It is a problem acutely felt in the legal aid sector where cuts to budgets and reduced rates of pay have left margins so tight that paying the recommended rate is often not feasible. For these firms the decision to take on a trainee is a difficult one and paying a salary below the recommended rate may be the only viable option.
“This underlines the need for us to continue to press, in the public interest, for an appropriately funded system of legal aid to help encourage new solicitors to enter this branch of the legal profession and to assist employers working in this area to offer employment opportunities.”
Law Society figures show traineeship opportunities have risen over the past two years, with 540 traineeships registered in 2014/15. This represents a 2% increase compared to the number of traineeships registered in practice year* 2013/14. The statistics also show that 88% of trainees admitted in the last practice year are now employed as solicitors.
Employers thinking of taking on a trainee are encouraged to look at the Law Society’s guidance which provides a factual look at what’s involved and offers insight into some of the main benefits of offering traineeships – from the financial contribution trainees can make to the firms to new skills they can bring. Flexible traineeships, such as sharing a trainee with another firm or offering a part-time traineeship, can provide a good option for some firms.