THE AUSTRALIAN state of Victoria has suspended plans to introduce a new minimum salary for the legal profession after lawyers claimed the unexpectedly high pay rate would result in the immediate abolition of training places.
The rate – $19.97 (£8.98) per hour for both articled clerks and employed solicitors – was brought in by the Employee Relations Commission following the state's decision to abolish industrial awards across the board.
But the Law Institute of Victoria was inundated with complaints from lawyers claiming the upsurge in pay levels would see firms cutting training places and jobs in the lower ranks. At the time a number of law firms in the state said they would retract job offers if the pay increase was introduced.
The commission has now suspended plans for salary increases pending meetings with industry groups.
The institute's director of research Carol Bartlett says a survey of the profession, conducted last month following the commission's decision, shows articled clerks in the state currently receive an average of between $8.12 (£3.65) and $11.76 (£5.29) an hour depending on the area in which they work.
First year solicitors in the central business district get $15.84 (£7.12) and it is not until the third year of post-qualification practice that lawyers receive $20.17 (£9.07), a salary on a par with the proposed rate.
However, Bartlett says a minimum salary is normally used only as a “safety net” and market forces often dictate a higher pay level.
She says lawyers would prefer to lower the commission's rate and provide training places and jobs for qualified solicitors.
“My principle concern is to preserve a training ground for articled clerks who are in desperate need of positions,” says Bartlett.
“There are now far more people looking for entry into the profession than the profession can offer jobs to, and I think it is important that the door be kept open.”
Bartlett says while it is important to ensure that the profession is regulated and lawyers are not forced to work in “third world conditions”, a salary as high as that proposed by the commission is unlikely to be maintained. She believes a new figure of between $8.50 and $8.60 (around £4) an hour will be produced.
“I can't envisage the commission maintaining their salary now,” she says. “I think it was an accident in the first place.”