Law firms 'exploiting female trainees'

2005

Female trainee solicitors are being blackmailed into accepting sexual advances from senior male lawyers in return for being offered jobs, a damning report into employment practices within law firms has concluded.

The report by the Trainee Solicitors Group paints a picture of widespread abuse and exploitation of trainee lawyers, who earn a minimum of £14,720 a year.

The findings also do not reflect well on partners in City law firms, who come across as being both scandalous and salacious in their behaviour.

In one case, a 24-year-old lawyer was told that, unless she agreed to go on a date with her supervisor, she would be denied an employment contract.

Another was told to sit on the senior partner's lap or she would not get the training she required, said the report, published in The Independent newspaper.

Peter Wright, chairman of the TSG, said one worrying element to the experiences reported by young women lawyers was that many of them had submitted to the demands made of them.

"It's absolutely shocking that these trainees should somehow feel that if they don't do what is asked of them they will not get their seats [training contract in a particular department]," he said.

"Many of them only contacted us after they had complied with the request," he added.

More than a quarter of the record 2,241 calls to the helpline in the past year were from trainees who were being bullied, harassed or exploited.

Calls to the TSG's helpline increased by 13 per cent on the previous year – with more than two-thirds of the calls coming from women, and just under a third from trainees from ethnic minorities.

Wright told the profession's newspaper, The Law Society Gazette: "This is not just a few cases – it is dozens and hundreds, and it is a telling statistic that two-thirds of calls were from women.

"In smaller firms, trainees can be treated as the bottom of the food chain – little more than low-paid menial staff on the same level as office assistants."

Last year, UK law firms took on more than 5,600 trainees, paying them on average £26,000 per year.

In a guide published last month, trainees and newly qualified solicitors were asked to rank their firm in a series of different categories and pick out their best and worst moments of their working lives.

Often in their first jobs, they complained of being verbally abused by partners, criticised by impatient judges and being made to work 100 hours a week without adequate breaks.