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Trainee solicitors are overworked, racially and sexually harassed and are even being asked to break the law by small law firms, according to a review by the Trainee Solicitors Group.
The review is based on findings from the TSG's helpline. TSG outgoing chairman Nick Armstrong said the helpline had received calls complaining that some firms - even one run by a Law Society Council member - had threatened to sack people for unlawful reasons, such as failure to gain Police Station Adviser accreditation.
In another case, a trainee was ordered to swear an affidavit without having seen the exhibits and, when he refused, was harassed.
One trainee was called a "nigger" and another was told they were only hired because they were Asian and that, as all Asians are criminals, it was expected they would bring the firm regular criminal work.
Another was expected to tell their partner where they were at all times, even when they went to the toilet.
The number of calls to the TSG helpline has more than doubled in the past year, with most coming from trainees at small firms expected to work 12-hour days and carry a solicitor's caseload.
"I'd say 95 per cent of our calls come from four-partner or less firms, where one trainee is working on their own and they think it's only them who is struggling," said Armstrong.
He said these are the worst cases, but that cases like this are becoming more common.
"The level of ignorance of what is in the training regulations is incredible," he said.
He said small firms have been taking on trainees without the systems and resources to deal with them.
"Many firms are simply unprepared to train these people properly. The trainees often get dumped with a fee earner's workload."