Trainees' damning verdict on a legal life

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The Independent Online
IN This Life the lawyers are glamorous twenty-somethings, in Kavanagh QC the hero is a wealthy, dashing barrister, but in reality more than a third of trainee solicitors would rather do something else - such as grow olives in Australia.

Thirty-nine per cent are disillusioned, broke and want to quit, according to a survey published on Monday. Given their time over again, they said they would not enter the legal profession. This is ironic, given the intense competition for students to get a two-year training contract which sets them on the path to becoming a lawyer.

"I was earning more money per hour washing dishes in a hospital kitchen in Melbourne than I do as a trainee solicitor," one trainee told The Lawyer newspaper, which questioned 200 trainee solicitors in England and Wales. The trainee quoted above is earns pounds 10,850 a year, the recommended minimum Law Society wage for a trainee. But The Lawyer uncovered many trainees who are earning well below that figure, with one being paid an annual salary of pounds 3,500 - for more than 40 hours' work a week. Many trainees said they work up to 65 hours a week and, worse still, they find the job boring and unfulfilling.

One trainee admitted many of his friends had faked their enthusiasm for law when applying for a training contract. "Many trainees told us they only realised they didn't want to be a lawyer until they were well into their seventh year of academic and workplace training," said Mary Heaney, editor of The Lawyer. "However, they feel unable to throw away years of training only to be left with a mountain of debt and nothing to show for it."

She added that many students had a mistaken view of the profession and needed guidance as to what it was really like. "Unrealistic expectations are a very big problem for those wanting a legal career. The profession is glamorised on television, and the press are very quick to latch on to the `fat cat' labelling theory.

"Students tend to believe lawyers earn a fortune and that they will end up as fat cats purring all the way to the bank. Instead they are more likely to work in a small high street practice earning a fraction of what they expected."