We are pleased to welcome Glasgow University law graduate, Christopher Agnew, as he pens this incisive guest blog post regarding some of the challenges facing prospective trainee solicitors in Scotland in the current uncertain economic climate.
Entering into a life in law, as I did in 2005, I would expect that my peers would have thought little about the prospects of entering into the profession following the culmination of their university life; it was arguably a guarantee as the Training Contract levels were steadily increasing through 2004-2007.
Following the Economic downturn in 2008 the Legal Sector, as well as many other private sectors, has been greatly affected and has accordingly tightened the reins on spending and staffing levels. As at November 2008, the level of Training Contracts registered by the Law Society of Scotland had fallen to 592 and plummeted to 427 in the following year.
One may argue that there is a direct correlation between the economy and the uptake rate of Trainees. As the economy started to level out, the training contracts were on the rise – up to 527 in 2010 – but then followed a second dip in 2011, to 93% of those in 2010.
There are various issues affecting prospective trainees in the current climate, over and above the current climate. One may argue that the competition has never been greater for one position, with literally hundreds of people applying for a solitary place. The challenge to stand out as a candidate even before interview is made harder still because of the graduation rate of those with a Diploma in Legal Practice. In recent times, it would seem that where the number of Diploma graduates and in fact, Diploma Providers has seen a gradual increase, the number of training contracts has declined over time and shows little sign of significant increase.
The Law Society of Scotland has sought to support those seeking a training contract with the introduction of various alternatives to the two year traineeship. The idea of a part-time training contract as well as a flexible training contract, whereby two or more firms take on the responsibility of training one individual, are seen as attractive alternatives given the current challenges in employment. On the face of it, one may see this as a motivating factor in encouraging employers to take on trainees and play their part in shaping the future of the Legal Profession. Some may argue however, that where the individual is responsible for seeking out two or more firms who are willing to enter into a flexible arrangement, it may be seen as a disincentive to those seeking a training contract – surely searching for one training contract is hard enough, without having to try harder to convince two firms to split the responsibility?!
Where payment in concerned, the Law Society is due to reconsider the recommended minimum level for a first and second year trainee in or around June 2012. I feel that it is important to note that the current position is one where the wage is a recommended minimum and therefore, law firms are free to offer any level of remuneration in which they can afford and also enter into negotiation with their prospective trainee regarding a mutually agreeable wage level. Prior to their consideration of wage levels for 2012-2013, the Council of the Law Society has responded to various queries regarding payment levels of Trainees, and in particular their stance on Training Contracts for no remuneration, with a decision which will guarantee new trainees no lower than the National Minimum Wage throughout their Training Contract.
The challenges facing those seeking Training Contract are arguably the greatest they have ever been. On one hand, the Professional Body is offering alternatives to encourage firms to take on trainees knowing that it will not be a two year commitment, and on the other hand, they are effectively nullifying any negotiation which may take place between the employer and employee regarding wages, by setting a definitive minimum; a minimum which some small to medium sized firms may not be able to afford in the current challenging economic climate.
On a personal note, I graduated with honours in 2010 and successfully completed the Diploma in Legal Practice in 2011 at Glasgow University. Following completion I have sought and found various Legal Work Experience placements offering a taster of general practice however have yet to find that elusive Training Contract. I am confident that the number of Training Contracts will gradually increase over the next three to five years, however the longer the stall in Training Contract numbers, the greater the opportunity for Diploma Providers to flood the market with future traineeship hunters.
Christopher T Agnew
Christopher Agnew is a 24yr old Diploma Graduate currently seeking a Training Contract, living in Motherwell, Scotland and can be found on various Social Media Platforms including LinkedIn – http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/christopher-agnew/4b/8a6/41b and Twitter – @agnew1_law. Since completing the Diploma In Legal Practice, he has sought out various work experience placement, including most recently, 8 months with a Wishaw Practitioner, spent in the Court department and involving matters including Civil Litigation, Commercial and Residential Conveyancing, Civil Disputes, Matrimonial and Child Law Issues and Private Client Work.
The view expressed in the preceding article are merely social observation and any personal views contained therein are entirely his own.