Law Society calls for work experience placements to offer minimum wage

23 March, 2016

Firms should pay those on work experience the minimum wage or above, according to the Law Society, after a survey showed that nearly a quarter of aspiring lawyers have worked for more than six months unpaid.

In new guidance to the profession, the Law Society has said that work experience opportunities should be clearly defined, openly advertised to the public, and paid at the national minimum wage where possible.

The Society added that unpaid placements should last no longer than four weeks, with expenses covered, where relevant.

The guidance, drawn up in partnership with the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), comes after a survey on work experience, conducted by the JLD two years ago, found that 80 per cent of respondents said they had done some form of unpaid work experience.

It also showed that 39 per cent worked unpaid for between one and three months, while 23 per cent did so for more than six months. Less than half of those surveyed said that they felt these placements had helped their job prospects.

Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society said: “Legal work experience has become a defining and important step towards a legal career, so competition for work experience can be intense.

“The Law Society guidance on work experience supports law firms to promote fair, equal access to the legal profession and good working practices.”

In its guidance the Society said that because competition for work experience is so intense, there remained a potential for some people to be left with a choice between taking a position with unfavourable conditions and not taking a placement at all.

Leanne Maund, Chair of the JLD, said: “While work experience is generally considered to be a good thing for aspiring trainee solicitors, sometimes the reality does not live up to expectations. In some cases, candidates we heard from appear to have been taken advantage of.

“We worked with the Law Society to produce this guidance to ensure that a line is drawn between circumstances where a prospective trainee is gaining a valuable insight into an organisation for a short period of time, and those where an individual is simply working unpaid.”

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