Times photographer Jack Hill
Legal aid cuts have been so deep that the leader of the solicitors’ profession stopped drawing a salary from his own law firm, it emerged on Friday.
Joe Egan, president of the Law Society, was forced to acknowledge the dire financial circumstances at his Bolton firm after it was revealed that the practice was paying two trainees less than the society’s recommended minimum wage.
The head of the society’s junior lawyers division said it was “disappointing” that Egan’s firm had not complied with the recommended annual minimum salary for trainee solicitors working outside of London, which is £18,547. Bryan Scant, the junior lawyers’ leader and a solicitor at the Portsmouth office of Coffin Mew, told the website Legal Cheek that Egan should “reconsider what he pays his trainees”.
Egan released a statement acknowledging that his firm fell short of the recommended minimum salary and blamed the impact of cuts to legal aid eligibility. He said the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 had created significant difficulties for his and other firms. “Two years ago I took no salary at all so my firm could keep going,” he revealed.
Joe Egan Solicitors has two partners, including Egan, and eight other solicitors.
The society president – who lives in a multi-million pound Georgian townhouse just off Chancery Lane in London during his one year tenure in office – said his firm employed two trainees. “It’s true we pay below the recommended rate,” said Egan. “I regret this. But these two people would not have had training contracts with us had we not made this difficult choice.”
Egan is not on the breadline, however – at least for this year. The society confirmed that “payments are made to the office holders or their firms or employers … [and that the] president may be remunerated a maximum payment equivalent to that paid to a recorder”. That would be roughly £144,000. However, the society did not confirm whether Egan was taking all his entitlement.
A Law Society spokesperson said: “The Law Society of England and Wales’ recommendation for minimum pay for trainee solicitors is £20,913 in London and £18,547 outside of London. We stand by that policy. These rates are recommendations rather than mandatory.”