Legal Admin Staff: Valuable Experience or Outright Exploitation?
Law has often been called one of the most socially exclusive of professions – where contacts and connections account for more than just qualifications or academic ability. Indeed, it can be very difficult for newly qualified or non-qualified candidates to gain entry into the profession without a connection or personal recommendation. At a time like this, somehow getting a foot in the door becomes the most important thing and obtaining work experience is considered to be the best way to do this.
Trade experts advise newbies and non-qualified starters to get as much experience as they can under their belt.
But does valuable work experience mean having to suspend the desire for a decent salary?
Does mounting competition mean that job seekers are in no position to expect anything and that law firms can treat non legal and graduate staff as disposable commodities?
- The economic recession has impacted every industry and profession and the same is true for law as well.
- Law firms have had to take different steps to combat the recession.
- Cutting numbers of employees is of course one of them.
- Other measures that legal firms have had to take are replacing junior lawyers with temps, trainees or graduates from non-legal backgrounds for administrative work, as well as slashing the number of traineeships or training contracts or deferring training contracts in order to offset the cost of paying trainees.
Law firms maintain that with the economic recession, clients are averse to paying more than absolutely necessary and are demanding better value for their money. This has led firms to take cost cutting measures as well as to find cost efficient ways of getting work done. At the same time, with the market still far from recovering, those eager to get work experience are not in the position with much room to bargain. This scenario has, arguably, put law firms in a position of great power over temps, trainees etc.
A report by the Trainee Solicitors Group a few years ago into how female trainees are treated in the legal profession had shocking results showing widespread exploitation and even sexual abuse among female trainees. This research in 2005 also showed that trainees and temps were expected to work up to 100 hours per week without sufficient breaks, and commonly suffered verbal abuse from senior staff.
Legal firms have been notorious for paying non legal staff unacceptably low wages. The average salary of the legal administrator is about £17,000. For beginners this is hugely lower. At the same time, employees just starting out are expected to work long hours and carry out menial duties. For those just starting out in the legal profession, especially non legal staff wanting to acquire experience, there is little choice but to take the job that is available. But wages, working conditions and expectations from employers can often be unfair and openly exploitative.
It is fair to say that all industries are suffering in the wake of this global recession and the legal industry often does command far higher revenues than many others. With this in mind, perhaps the owners of legal firms might like to have a re-think when it comes to creaming off the profits and leaving their staff to contend with abject poverty at times.