SRA passes buck on trainee deferrals

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has turned its back on hundreds of would-be lawyers who face the threat of having their training contracts withdrawn or delayed.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has turned its back on hundreds of would-be lawyers who face the threat of having their training contracts withdrawn or delayed.

The regulator refused to intervene and claimed that the current wave of deferrals experienced by students is an employment issue and should be sorted out separately between the firms and their cohorts.

In a statement the SRA said: “The SRA sympathises with the disappointment felt by trainees who are faced with having to defer – or in some cases even lose – their training contracts due to the economic downturn. However, unfortunately this is an employment issue and as such falls outside the remit of our regulatory role.”

Leading employment lawyer Jo Keddie, a partner at Dawsons, said that prospective trainee solicitors who have signed binding offers of employment with their firms have clear cut rights to sue for loss of income.

She also claimed that firms that are deferring trainees are exposing themselves to a claim for damages for the period of deferral.

“If a firm seeks to withdraw a training contract for no reasonable or legal reason, the hapless trainee could be exposed to two years’ loss and significant uncertainty regarding their career, which will have stalled through no fault of their own,” explained Keddie.

“Invariably the key terms of concern to trainees will be the right to start their training on a set date and to receive a salary for the full two-year fixed term of their contract,” said Keddie.

Any attempt to vary or, worse still, withdraw the contract is likely to be a breach of the contract and may well give rise to a claim for loss of income if a trainee cannot mitigate his or her loss of income by finding a new training contract elsewhere,” she added.

Several firms are offering a concessionary payment for deferring start dates. The most recent firm to announce such a payment was Trowers & Hamlins, which is offering £10,000 to trainees in its September 2009 and 2010 intakes who agree to defer for a year.

Midlands firm Shoosmiths, the first major firm to ask trainees to voluntarily withdraw training contracts, is not offering any compensation.

Keddie warned trainees to think carefully about agreeing to defer as by doing so they will be accepting the firm’s breach and waving goodbye to their right to sue.

Click here for a full list of firms that are deferring trainee start dates.