Categories:London

SRA gets a roasting as deferrals leave students out in the cold

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  • I have a training contract with a major commercial firm due to commence this September. Like everyone else I worked hard for a long time and fought hard for the position. As yet, they have not chosen to defer trainees and if asked, I will not be volunteering - I WANT TO BE A LAWYER NOW PLEASE! I believe that as long as firms are turning £multi-million profits, they have a duty to those trainees they offerred jobs to and who have accepted them. That being said, I am highly unlikely to want to sue my future employer!

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  • It's a terrible situation when someone isn't going to assert their legal rights just because it could be seen as 'troublemaking'.

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  • We pay the SRA fee's when we start the LPC, what is the point of this? It is crazy!
    Students have worked their socks off to get a training contract and when they get one, firms who are still making profit in the millions, 'defer' the trainees. It is crazy.
    I appreciate that work may be scarce but deferring trainees when the market is not going to get any better isnt goint to solve the problem
    The SRA did not and still does not help future trainees. Its an utter disgrace!

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  • So, Anonymous wants to work for a "major commercial firm". It strikes me that deferral will give this student an ideal opportunity to reflect on their future career path, as even at this stage of their career they demonstrate rather poor commercial understanding.

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  • There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of roles here. The SRA is the regulator, and takes money for registering a student and their training contract, and ensures that the terms of that contract are in conformity with the requirements of the training regulations. If there is a problem with the employment relationship, that is a matter between the individual and the employer.
    But surely the body that should be criticised is The Law Society which, as the representative body for solicitors and trainees is doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to represent the interests of students and trainees here. That's because it's fearful of the firms deciding that the Society is pointless, and not wanting to pay for its activities. Where is the Junior Lawyers Division in all this? It has been conspicuously quiet. The old Trainee Solicitors Group would have broken the baseball bats out by now, and given the firms and the Law Society a good working over!

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  • To Anonymous at 5.09pm,
    Clearly it makes no business sense to pay wages for workers where there is insufficient work and this situation inevitably makes for poor training from the trainee's perspective. However, when the flawed legal business model advocates recruiting trainee personnel blind to future economic conditions; given that these contracts are like gold dust, law firms owe a moral duty to accommodate fledgling solicitors who hardly cause costs diarrhoea.
    It makes good business sense to have sufficient numbers when business picks up. It makes bad business sense to damage PR and restrict the future talent recruitment pool by scrapping TC's.
    If the ridiculous two-year recruitment system was replaced with a more responsive nine-month, University-style recruitment system, then numbers could be regulated properly and this scenario could be avoided.

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  • My girlfriend was handed a compulsory deferral and e-mailed the Junior Lawyers Division enquiring about her rights. They didn't even reply! Representative body eh?!

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  • I feel sorry for those Shoosmith trainees who did not receive payment to defer but not for those who were paid but in both cases they still have a position open for them in the future, which is not the case for those existing lawyers made redundant.

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  • I agree with Gagged (6:25pm). High street or "local" firms as they are known here in Hong Kong are more responsive, with some even recruiting on the spot. City/international firms may also sometimes keep recruiting for an intake only one year away.
    Having to do training contract apps when only in second year doesn't really help with precious study time at uni, nor will candidates usually have enough practical work experience to pick where they want to apply for at least the next two years of their career.

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  • This does indeed seem to be more of an employment than regulatory issue, prima facie at least. But I am not sure that the SRA has always kept the two separate.
    Whilst my personal situation regarding deferrals is not an issue at present, I can't help but notice this strangeness of this situation. When I applied for training contracts, I discovered the SRA's voluntary code for both employers and students. It contains a number of points such as:
    - 'Applicants will be given four weeks to confirm whether or not they wish to accept an offer. The employer will give sympathetic consideration to an applicant’s request for an extension to the time limit on an offer provided that a good reason is given.'
    - 'Once a student has accepted an offer, the student must inform all other employers who have made an offer or invited them to attend for interview and make no further applications for a training contract.'
    Am I misguided, or does the SRA not already have it's foot in the door of employment issues, albeit at student/trainee level? They were happy to decide how I should conduct myself (and firms themselves) when job offers were being made/accepted. Why are they not happy to step in at this post-offer, pre-working stage?

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  • It seems completely wrong that SRA just puts this down to an 'employment issue'. SRA requires trainees to commit to firms as soon as they accept their training contracts but then won't step in when firms then defer/withdraw training contracts... the position of those trainees who have had deferrals/withdrawals from training contracts is very different to those who have unfortunately been made redundant because realistically trainees do have the potection of employment law to aid them financially. Trainees can't simply sue their future firms for breach of contract without causing serious harm to their own careers and so need the support of SRA.

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  • Reply from Leicestershire Junior Lawyers' Division:
    On behalf of the LJLD I am responding to this story. Please accept my apologies for not having commented on the article sooner.
    Our reaction to the deferral schemes was altogether positive. Whilst we understand there will inevitably be disappointment from some prospective trainees in having to wait a year, the opportunities for good quality training are bound to be limited in times such as these. It makes sense for trainees to begin their contracts once the poor economic situation has begun to improve and the work begins to flow again. The fact that some firms are offering trainees a deferral payment provided they use the time efficiently is very encouraging and would certainly provide young lawyers with the opportunity to learn extra skills and forge new experiences.
    However, as a trainee myself, I am very alarmed by the practice of any firm in attempting to withdraw training contracts on a compulsory basis. There are arguably parallels with the redundancy procedure but this in effect is a serious knockout blow to young lawyers at such a critical stage in their careers. It appears that some firms are failing to appreciate how damaging this can be for prospective new lawyers.
    It is well documented that the offering of training contracts is such a pivotal career moment for any prospective solicitor. The SRA may have no powers at present to interfere in these circumstances, however we at the LJLD believe that they should be granted such a power, and that this power should be exercised. Law students and LPC graduates surely cannot be expected to take legal action against law firms. Aside from the cost and complexity of doing so, we are all too aware of how much emphasis firms place on reputation in the legal world. People in this position desperately need help - this alone justifies the SRA or indeed the Law Society taking control of this issue, especially as their own paid members are losing out here.
    The effect of firms withdrawing training contracts is not only morally unjust after the time and effort some people have gone to in order to secure a training contract against such fierce competition, it is also very worrying for the profession as a whole. This latest development not only makes it even harder than before for hopeful students to obtain a training contract, but adds considerable stress and worry to those who have overcome that substantial hurdle. This is particularly harsh on those who have already begun (or indeed paid for) their LPC.
    We will be raising this issue at a National Level in due course and doing all we can to obtain an explanation from the SRA as to why this practice is currently unhindered. I understand from an above comment that one or two people have had difficulty in contacting the Junior Lawyer’s Division. We at the Leicestershire branch of the JLD can be contacted easily by e-mail . Details are contained at our website – www.ljld.co.uk and myself and my fellow committee members would be happy to answer any questions relating to this issue.
    Please be assured that this development has not been missed by us, and we will be doing all we can to obtain answers from the relevant bodies.
    Lewis

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  • My rebuttal to Anonymous | 20-Apr-2009 5:09 pm,

    I am the author of the original post on this article. Kudos on the pointed tone of your comment - you should be a lawyer!

    I appreciate that trainees with some "major commercial firms" might not have best experience possible given the economic climate (man I am sick of that expression!). However I make a point of visiting their website every day and reading legal sites like this one and they are doing multi-million pounds on a weekly basis. I am not so naive to think the champagne will be flowing (as has been the experience of trainees that have preceded me) but I know the quality of work is there for the taking.

    Vis-a-vis "reflection on my future career path"....I have had years of studying to reflect. I am currently on a year out before commencing and have spent it working in 3 different and diverse working environments to broaden my horizons.

    Sidenote: Thank you to Lewis from LJLD who has shared the views of their JLD branch!

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