Trainee lawyers require protection from bullying bosses

Susannah Haan of the Trainee Solicitors’ Group says the Law Society should come down hard on firms that ill treat their trainees. Susannah Haan is chair of the Trainee Solicitors’ Group and a trainee at Clifford Chance.

The number of calls that trainee solicitors are making to the Trainee Solicitors’ Group (TSG) helpline each month is increasing rapidly.

Almost half of these calls come from trainees complaining of racial and sexual abuse, inadequate training and being overworked.

Black trainees have reported being called “niggers” by their employers, while other trainees have been threatened with the sack for failing to gain Police Station Adviser accreditation.

Many have told of being expected to run departments by themselves, or to work with no real supervision of their caseloads – which amount to some 40 to 70 files from the very beginning – at a time when these same trainees may also be available for callout after hours.

We have even heard of cases where the trainee finds that his or her pay cheque has been bounced with no warning or even apology from the firm, or where a mistake has been made by the trainee while working without supervision, the firm has simply refused to pay the trainee’s wages.

It is down to firms to scrutinise their training procedures to ensure that such practices are not allowed to continue. Many lawyers think of themselves as good communicators, but a heavy workload can lead to a lack of planning and badly thought out instructions. And if trainees are given inadequate instructions, they must be expected to produce inadequate results.

The TSG believes there should be more co-ordination between the Law Society’s Legal Education and Training group – which monitors training contracts – and the OSS, and that sanctions should be imposed on firms which do not follow the Law Society’s training requirements.

Firms found to be in serious breach of the requirements must be banned from offering training contracts, so that other trainees do not have to suffer the same treatment.

There should be a more rigorous examination of the firms wishing to be authorised to take trainees, and more training available for those wishing to be training principals.

Trainees can contact the monitoring team anonymously at the Law Society on 01527 504 404.