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A NEW scheme designed to secure training contracts for Scottish law graduates has been condemned by lawyers south of the border.
Solicitors in England and Wales say the system, which involves graduates of Scotland's Diploma in Legal Practice working for a Government training allowance plus u10 per week for the first year of articles, is detrimental to the profession.
Managed by training company MI Technologies, the scheme sees trainees receiving the allowance, equivalent to unemployment benefit, for 12 months before moving on to a salary similar to the recommended rate for a second-year trainee.
Since starting operations last month, the scheme - which is not approved by the Law Society of Scotland - has placed two graduates in firms. The scheme came to light following an investigation of trainees by Radio Scotland's legal programme 'Lawful Business'.
England and Wales Trainee Solicitors Group chair Richard Moorhead says: "Scottish trainees seem to feel forced to work for very low pay and some may be forced to work for next to nothing."
"It is clear to me having spoken to people involved in the Scottish education and training system that elitism and access problems are threatening the quality of entrants and may be forcing the Scottish Law Society to look again at their system of education."
"A system where there is effectively a youth training scheme for trainee solicitors can only damage the long-term interests of the profession."
But the company's chair and managing director Gerald Belton stands by the programme, saying the scheme was devised after he spotted a large number of advertisements placed in Scottish newspapers by potential trainees seeking work.
"It's an appalling indictment of our society that we put our young people through the discipline of a university degree and then we don't provide the next step," says Belton.
"For the aspiring trainee this gives them access to a proper traineeship as laid down by the Law Society of Scotland. It means a period of self-sacrifice but it means that they are getting on with their career."
President of the Law Society of Scotland Kenneth Ross confirms Belton approached the Society for approval.
"We didn't stand in his way, but we didn't endorse his scheme. It's really a matter for the potential trainee and the training solicitor," says Ross.
"I doubt whether the scheme will make a great deal of difference because I feel there is a limited capacity within the profession to absorb trainees.
"But, it's not something that I personally am comfortable with."