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Firms are getting away with blatant abuse of practice rules because trainee solicitors are too scared to speak out about mistreatment, claims the Trainee Solicitors' Group (TSG).
The organisation is making its findings public as use of its helpline hits a record high, with 122 calls for help coming in over the past six months. During the same period in 1997/1998, calls totalled only 42.
TSG chairwoman Susannah Haan says trainees are reluctant to make an official complaint when they call the helpline and when they are monitored by the Law Society.
"It is fear for their own jobs and fear of being seen as a trouble-maker by colleagues. And even if they're moving to another firm, they're worried their new firm will see them as a trouble-maker," she says.
"It's frustrating for the Law Society and us. They [the firms] know they can get away with it."
The TSG says the most common abuses firms are "getting away with" are bullying, harassment and hiring trainees as para-legals on the promise of a training contract "if we like you".
"They're then being held out to other people as a trainee and that's actually against practice rules," Haan says.
Haan believes the helpline calls merely scratch the surface of trainee abuse. The Law Society's TSG liaison officer gets up to 2,500 unspecified calls a month, many from trainees. She also notes increasing complaints from "quite large, reputable firms...and quite a few ethnic minority females this time round".