Research by the UK's Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has shown that since the removal of the minimum trainee salary, trainee numbers have increased and they are more positive about their salaries, even though average trainee salaries have dropped.
In 2014, the SRA said it would no longer set a minimum salary. Firms would instead need to pay at least the national minimum wage and be guided by the market.
The SRA has now analysed the data on 33,000 trainee solicitors between 2011 and 2016 to assess the impact of these changes.
According to the research, the removal has coincided with a continued growth in the number of training contracts offered. However, the SRA said it was unclear whether the removal of the minimum salary has contributed to this growth or if it reflects an increasing demand for trainees.
The research also shows that trainee pay has dropped, on average by £560 per year, since the removal of the prescribed minimum salary. The main cause of this has been a drop in the salary of the lowest earning trainees.
The majority of trainees (75 percent) and firms (82 percent) felt that the change had not had an impact (either positive or negative). Trainees are now significantly more positive about salary levels.
In 2012, only half of trainees surveyed said salaries would mean they would be able to continue training - this has increased to 83 percent in 2016. And 55 percent of trainees felt their salary was too low in 2012, dropping to 46 percent in 2016.
The research also assessed how the change had affected certain groups. The average pay gap between different ethnic groups has reduced significantly.
This, the SRA said, was mainly a result of reductions in the salaries of white trainees. Black and Asian trainees are still generally paid less, as they are more likely to work in firms that pay less, such as sole practices and firms specialising in criminal, litigation or real estate work.
The average gender pay gap has increased slightly. Even taking account other factors such as the type of firm worked in, female trainees are still on average earning slightly less than males. However, the data did not provide evidence as to why this might be the case.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “Given the value of legal services to the UK and significant unmet legal need, it is encouraging that the number of trainees continues to grow and that they are more positive about their futures.
“Although the pay gap between different ethnic groups has reduced since the removal of the minimum salary, it is disappointing that the data again highlights that Black and Asian solicitors are more likely to work in firms that pay less. We will continue to work with others to increase diversity in all types of firms and at all stages in a solicitor’s career.”
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