Check small print before deferring training contracts, students warned

Trainee solicitors should think carefully before agreeing to have the start dates of their training contracts postponed, according to a top employment lawyer.

Dawsons head of employment Jo Keddie said trainees are unlikely to be made redundant once they start their training contracts, but should be wary of accepting a deferral without first checking the terms and conditions of their employment contracts.

She said of deferred start dates: “They’ve got to hope and pray the firm will want them at some future point. Trainees should ask firms to clarify in writing exactly what they are seeking to do so they have got some certainty.”

Despite the glut of redundancies at UK law firms, trainees have so far escaped the axe because they are on two year fixed term contracts.

Unless you fail some exam or do something that is completely incompetent, they are committed to train you for two years, explained Keddie.

Firms can, however, ask trainees to delay training contracts and may even withdraw a job offer before they start.

Newcastle-based Muckle and Ward Hadaway are so far the only firms to have delayed training contract start dates for their future joiners. However, as economic conditions continue to deteriorate it is expected that more firms will follow suit as was the case during the dotcom crash.

Keddie said it was important to check employment contracts carefully to protect future employment.

What are you going to do about it – sue them? You have got no money and no job. In this environment employers are getting away with murder, she warned.

Some employers have also asked trainees to move to a four-day week in order to reduce salary bills, a move which could delay qualification.

Milton Keynes firm Kimbells has asked staff in three of its departments to go part-time, as reported in The Lawyeryesterday (8 December).

Keddie said law firms would need to get consent from trainees and if they tried to impose part-time working they were at risk of being sued for constructive dismissal.

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