A roundup of the SYLA's representation work for young lawyers in Scotland in these difficult times for intending solicitors

The challenges facing prospective new lawyers today have been well documented. There are more newly qualified solicitors than there are positions, and more law graduates than traineeships.

While six different institutions offer the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, student loans are capped at £3,400, which falls far short of the current average fees of £6,000 and makes no allowances for living costs. Times are undoubtedly difficult, and have been for a number of years.

The Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (“SYLA”) is trying to help members in a number of different ways. As the Scott & Co 2012 Legal Education Provider of the Year, SYLA’s education programme is well established, and our social events are renowned, but the quiet work going on behind the scenes on representation issues affecting young lawyers is also worthy of note.

How does SYLA help its members in these tough times?

Fair access

SYLA has worked for a number of years on fair access issues within the legal profession, and has supported the efforts of the Campaign for Fair Access to the Legal Profession (CFALP) since its inception. The SYLA has played an active role in this campaign, attending demonstrations at the Scottish Parliament and engaging in discussions.

SYLA collaborated with the CFALP and the Trainee and Newly Qualified Society (TANQ) to produce a paper for the Council of the Law Society of Scotland that critically examined the costs and risks faced by students undertaking the Diploma, together with recommendations as to how these could be resolved. This matter is now under consideration by Council, and a further report is expected in the autumn. SYLA is continuing to keep fair access high on the agenda, and to encourage recognition that fair access is a live issue at all stages of the route to qualification, not just funding the Diploma.

Taking on a trainee

For legal businesses weathered by the recession, taking on a trainee can sometimes seem a daunting and risky strategy. While numbers have been generally depressed over the last couple of years, SYLA has been encouraged by the increasing number of enquiries to the Law Society of Scotland from firms who have not taken on a trainee in a number of years and are now considering it, and has supported the Society with a guide for employers considering taking on a trainee.

We have also been active in promoting flexible traineeships, where a trainee works for more than one training firm over the course of their traineeship, thereby allowing firms to take on a trainee in circumstances where a full-time member of staff is not required. We are hearing reports of flexible traineeships making a real difference to the trainee and firm experience of training, and hope to continue to support this initiative among our membership.

National minimum wage

Following stories of members working for less than the national minimum wage, or indeed working for free, SYLA voiced its concerns to raise awareness of this issue. In April 2012, the Society’s Council decided that all trainees commencing a training contract after 1 June 2012 must be paid the minimum wage (currently £6.08 per hour). SYLA welcomed this decision as ensuring the profession is not caught in a race to the bottom. However, SYLA has maintained its original position that trainees are paid above the national minimum wage, at the rates recommended by the Society, currently £16,200 for first-year trainees and £19,400 for second year.

Employment lawyer panel

Should a member face difficulties in their employment, SYLA has set up an employment lawyer panel. This is comprised of experienced employment lawyers who are willing to provide an initial consultation and advice to members regarding the difficulties they face, for free. Thereafter, the individual can assess their situation and consider their options. While we hope that legal advice on a young lawyer’s employment is never required, members can draw comfort from the fact that a service exists, should they need it.


One would be forgiven for thinking that SYLA’s representation work is all doom and gloom. A number of positive opportunities are presenting themselves for our membership. Various members have contacted SYLA, looking for opportunities in which they can gain relevant work experience to assist in securing internships, placements and traineeships; those undertaking traineeships looking for NQ positions; and those who are qualified, but have been made redundant or are in between jobs and want to keep their knowledge and experience up to date. Others who are in employment have indicated that they would like to volunteer to help others.

SYLA has been liaising with the free legal advice clinics operating around the country to highlight the help available from our members in supervising or staffing these clinics. We have also been liaising with LawWorks Scotland and Citizens Advice Direct to develop further opportunities for young lawyers to support pro bono efforts around The country. This is something SYLA is hoping to encourage within our membership over the next 12 months, and we look forward to working with them on “giving something back” during these difficult times for the youth of the profession.

The Author
Fiona McAllister is President of the Scottish Young Lawyers Association
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