Firms outside London slow to react to increases in Trainee solicitor pay recommendations

Figures from the 2020 Salary and Benefits Benchmarker indicate that gains made in increases to the minimum threshold of Trainee Solicitor pay in the Capital are not replicated throughout the rest of the UK.


This time last year, on the 4th of February to be exact, The Law Society announced increases to their minimum trainee solicitor salary recommendations. The new rate came into effect on the 1st of May 2019 and saw a 2.6% rise for trainees in and outside London in line with inflation rates based on the previous year’s Consumer Price Index. The Law Society’s recommendations were that trainees in London should be paid a minimum of £22,121 and those in the regions of the UK should receive a minimum salary of £19,619.


In accordance with figures published in our annual Salary and Benefits Benchmarker, it was reported in 2019 that the number of trainee solicitors under the minimum threshold (before this increase) had dropped by a third in 12 months; 25% of trainees were paid below The Law Society’s recommended level at the start of 2019 rather than 38% of trainees at the beginning of 2018.  In 2020, the UK average has jumped slightly to 29% of trainees receiving a salary below the proposed minimum nationally. Nearly half of all trainee respondents also felt that they were paid below the market rate within their current positions.


Director Jon Nolan, who recruits for the North Yorkshire Private Practice market said:

In all likelihood this story is being played out in high street, regional and rural law firms; reform and the slashing of public funding means the money just isn’t there in some circumstances. Born of necessity rather than exploitation. It would be interesting to hear otherwise.


Breaking this down, as we move into the new decade, 16% of London based Trainees are paid below The Law Society’s recommended minimum salary. This is a 1% drop from last year’s survey response results and yet another decrease from the 20% recorded in 2018, and 25% in 2017. With an emphasis on NQ pay causing competitive ripples throughout the market, it is no surprise that attention is focused even at this early stage before qualification (especially with retention rates on the rise also).


Unfortunately, this good news is not replicated within the regions. Following a substantial decrease last year in the number of those indicating they earn below The Law Society’s minimum of £19,619 where (26%) this has again climbed, although not quite to 2018’s high of 41%. In 2020, 35% of trainee solicitors outside of London are paid below the recommended amount, an increase of 9%.


Guy Pearson, Divisional Head and Manager of Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment’s London desk commented:

Whilst it is apparent that firms outside of London are still playing catch up with the increases to The Law Society’s recommendations regarding Trainee pay, those within the City can’t afford not to act swiftly. London’s legal market whilst thriving remains saturated and continues to be predominantly candidate led; firms that fail to offer attractive offerings in terms of salary, benefits and working environments will lag behind their competitors in terms of securing new and rising talent.


It is telling that 42% of trainees within London believe that their salary is below the market average, a whole 10% lower than those outside the Capital. According to the 2020 Salary and Benefit Benchmarker respondent data, the average trainee salary within London reaches £30,500 in compared to the regional equivalent of £22,500, yet, 37% of trainees within the regions received payrises within their current roles – 11% higher than London based trainees. Higher salaries are also expected within London, not only due to the cost of living but as an average, trainees within the City work an extra 7 hours of overtime each week. The pressure to work beyond contracted hours is also felt by trainees outside of London, who clock up an average of 4.8 additional hours per week.


Happiness and job satisfaction may correlate with remuneration with 69% of London based trainees indicating that they are happy within their current role, this decreases substantially to 57% within the regions which is coincidentally the same % recorded as the 2020 total UK average for all UK legal professionals.


With the Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination (SQE) coming into force in 2021 and more Solicitors qualifying through the apprenticeship route, trainee salary pay will soon be under even more intense scrutiny. This is especially given the burden of rising university course fees which may make the traditional route a less cost-effective and attractive option.


As reported in the press:

https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/news/over-a-third-of-regional-trainees-paid-less-than-minimum-salary/5103023.article

https://www.legalcheek.com/2020/02/nearly-a-third-of-trainee-solicitors-paid-below-law-society-recommended-minimum/


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