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Young lawyers and the retention issue

17 June 19

Report on a Scottish Young Lawyers' Association survey looking at members' pay and conditions, and issues that cause them to consider leaving the profession – a thought entertained by the majority

by Ayla Iridag

In autumn 2018 the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association undertook a survey of their membership to identify the issue with retaining junior lawyers within the profession in Scotland. Two hundred and twenty five responses were received.

Demographic

In order to obtain an understanding of the demographic of the respondents, the first question asked respondents to identify a geographical area with which they identified. The majority of responses came from those living in the central belt, with around 45% being from Edinburgh and 32% from Glasgow. Almost 7% were from Aberdeen, around 4% from Dundee and the remainder were based elsewhere.

Some of those who responded were already practising outside Scotland. They included some in London and others in the Channel Islands and Middle East.

Of those who answered, an equal number of trainee solicitors and solicitors between 0-2 years' PQE responded. These respondents made up around two thirds of the total. Around 16% were between 2-5 years' PQE, and 18.5% were five or more years' PQE.

Current position

We are aware that our members have raised issues about a number of aspects of their roles, and we sought to understand some of these before attempting to gauge the real problems which are causing people to consider a career outside Scotland, or outside the legal profession.

Salary

222 of those who responded anonymously gave their gross salary. At the time of the survey the Law Society of Scotland recommended a minimum salary for first year trainees of £19,000. Eleven people who submitted their salary were paid below this level. This is approximately 5% of respondents.

Of those solicitors with 0-2 years' PQE, the salaries varied between £22,000 and £58,000 in Scotland. Those practising in London earned between £60,000 and £127,000.

Salaries for those with 2-5 years' PQE varied between £30,000 and £54,000 in Scotland, with English equivalent salaries between £54,000 and £63,000. Those practising in the Middle East could expect to earn up to £85,000.

This shows an interesting comparison between the gaps in salary present at NQ level and the gap for more experienced yet still junior solicitors.

Those classing themselves as five or more years' PQE are more difficult to analyse as the specific number of years was not recorded. These salaries ranged from £27,000 to £150,000.

Those qualifying into civil litigation could expect a starting salary no lower than £25,000. The highest earner in the 2-5 year bracket brought home a gross salary of £80,000.

Corporate and commercial NQs could expect a minimum salary of £22,000, and those of 2-5 years' PQE had a maximum salary of £45,000. However, the highest paid respondent practising this area of law in Scotland earned £61,000.

The lowest salary for a newly qualified criminal solicitor was £25,000 and the highest in this bracket was £40,000. There were insufficient responses for solicitors in the 2-5 year category. The highest paid respondent with over five years' PQE earned £90,000.

The lowest salary for a NQ solicitor practising private client work was £30,000 and highest was around £40,000. There were no respondents within the 2-5 year category. The highest paid private client solicitor to respond earned £150,000.

Of newly qualified solicitors in the property sector, the lowest earner brought home £33,500 before tax. The highest in this bracket earned £40,000. Of those with 2-5 years' PQE, the lowest salary was £37,000 and the highest £62,000.

Newly qualified solicitors

For the purpose of this survey we classified solicitors with 0-2 years PQE as “newly qualified”. In Scotland, their salaries ranged between £22,000 and £58,000. In London the range was between £60,000 and £127,000.

Two to five years' PQE

In the middle bracket were those with 2-5 years' PQE. The salaries in Scotland ranged between £27,000 and £54,000. Those practising in England earned between £54,000 and £63,000. Those in the Middle East earned up to £85,000.

More than five years' PQE

The range in this bracket is harder to analyse, but respondents in Scotland earned between £27,000 and £150,000. There were no respondents who practised law outside Scotland who identified as more than five years' PQE.

By specialism

We looked at the salaries at newly qualified level in Scotland. On average, property solicitors earned the highest wage with criminal solicitors earning the lowest. The difference between these average salaries was £11,180.

For those in the 2-5 years' PQE category the lowest average income was earned by civil litigation lawyers. The highest income on average was earned by corporate lawyers. There were insufficient data for criminal and private client areas.

Of those with more than five years' PQE, the highest earner practised private client law. The lowest earner practised criminal law.

By location

Using data from 0-2 years' PQE, we analysed the salary variation based on location. The average income for an Edinburgh based lawyer was £32,520. In Aberdeen this figure was £33,866. In Dundee the average was £31,000, and in Glasgow the figure was £62,440. In other areas of Scotland the average was £28,765. Outside of Scotland the average was £69,333.

Work-life balance

We asked respondents to estimate how many hours on average they spent working per week. The average was 36.84; however the maximum number of hours per week was 50 and the minimum was 24.

This varied between the level of PQE and the type of work being undertaken.

Response

Leaving the law

Over 75% of those surveyed have considered a career outside of law since commencing their traineeship, and over 60% stated they were actively considering the move or would consider it in the future.

One hundred and forty seven respondents took the time to give their reasons. Almost 30% said they had considered the move in order to achieve a work-life balance, and almost equal numbers cited poor pay or compensation. Around 10% considered a move as they felt there was limited career progression within the legal sector. Almost 12% cited stress as a contributing factor. Other factors included regulation of the profession, political issues and legal aid rates.

Leaving Scotland

Over 65% of respondents said they had considered practising law outside of Scotland, with 40% actively considering doing so or would in the future. Of the 103 people who gave a detailed response to the question, more than 15% had considered practising in London and almost 30% had considered England more generally. Almost 18% of respondents had contemplated practising in North America, almost 8% in the Middle East and almost 5% in the Channel Islands.

Unsurprisingly, almost 37% of respondents cited pay as one of their main considerations. Almost 24% cited a better work-life balance, and over 17% cited better quality of work. Over 18% thought there were better career prospects and job opportunities outside Scotland.

The Association decided to look further into the issue of poor pay following the requests of our members. In order to assess whether pay was realistically better outside Scotland, we undertook a comparison of rental costs vs income north and south of the border. The average rent for a property in Edinburgh was found to be £1,558 per calendar month. The average salary for a qualified solicitor in Edinburgh is £47,044. The average rent for a property in Leeds is £1,110 per calendar month, but the average lawyer's salary is £54,723. The contrast is even more substantial in Birmingham where the average lawyer is paid £53,528 but the average rent is only £857 per month. (Rental figures from www.home.co.uk; salary figures from www.adzuna.co.uk/jobs/salaries, both as at 30 May 2019.)

This indicates that not only would a lawyer tend to earn more working in cities south of the border, but they would likely have more disposable income.

Ayla Iridag is President of the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association

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