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From June 2016 the recommended rates for trainee salaries will be £17,545 for first year trainees and £21,012 for second year trainees, an increase of 3% on the previous rates. This follows a 2% rise in 2015, before which trainee rates had risen by 3% from 2014.
The Society’s recommended rate is not compulsory and it is for individual law firms or in-house employers to decide how much they pay trainee solicitors. The recommended rate is often used as a benchmark for employers, with 92% of trainees currently paid at or above the recommended level.
The Law Society's Council has agreed that, from April 2016, only trainee contracts that are at or above the Living Wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation, will be accepted.
The decisions follow over a year of research into trainee remuneration including a survey of 650 solicitors, student and trainees on the recommended rate. Over 70% of respondents supported moving the lowest salary the Society would accept to at least the Living Wage.
Eilidh Wiseman, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: "We need to strike the right balance when setting the recommended rate for trainee salaries. Trainees are the future of our profession and we want them to be paid properly for the work they do. However we know that while there has been an improvement in the economy, which has undoubtedly contributed to the increased number of traineeships on offer, employers continue to have to control their costs, including salaries.
"The reality is that today's law graduates have more choice than ever before in terms of what kind of career they want to pursue. Around half choose not to join the solicitors' profession and new roles, such as legal analyst positions, offer an alternative and attractive career path in law. We need to do what we can to ensure that we continue to attract high calibre individuals to the profession, which includes maintaining competitive pay rates.
"It remains the case that some law firms simply cannot afford to take on a trainee. It is a problem acutely felt in the legal aid sector where cuts to budgets and reduced rates of pay have left margins so tight that paying the recommended rate is often not feasible. For these firms the decision to take on a trainee is a difficult one and paying a salary below the recommended rate may be the only viable option.
“This underlines the need for us to continue to press, in the public interest, for an appropriately funded system of legal aid to help encourage new solicitors to enter this branch of the legal profession and to assist employers working in this area to offer employment opportunities.”