The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has warned that aspiring solicitors are open to exploitation under the new routes to qualification being implemented by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In an open letter to the SRA’s CEO Paul Philip, it urged him to reconsider the decision to no longer regulate training contracts and training principals, writing: “We must stress, and again bring to the SRA’s attention, that if no action is taken to regulate the work experience element of the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) then junior lawyers will be exploited in unhealthy cultures, work and training environments and inadequate training will be provided.”

“The SRA must consider the ramifications of the SQE proposals and ensure that a mechanism is in place to regulate the work experience element of the SQE, the training principals and the training providers.”

The SQE is the exam that all future solicitors will have to take in order to qualify. It will gradually replace the chief current method of qualification – the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course – over the coming years.

The JLD also repeated its concerns over the removal of a mandatory minimum salary for trainees, which was scrapped in 2014.

It said: “In May of 2018, the SRA’s own impact study revealed that the abolishment of the minimum salary had led to a fall in average pay (by £560 on average) and seen the gender pay gap widen. The results of this study also revealed that, on considering the median salaries, both black and Asian trainees still earn less than white trainees. We understand that to obtain these statistics the SRA analysed the data of 33,000 trainee solicitors, who started their training between January 2011 and December 2016.”

“If there are no safeguards on the salary a trainee solicitor is paid now, or in the future format of the SQE, the SRA will be placing a significant barrier on entry to the profession for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. There is also a serious concern that aspiring solicitors could be exploited under the work experience element of the SQE.”