In Practice: Competing, paying and helping

This week, three stories that will have a bearing upon the future of the profession:

Alternative Business Structures ('ABSs') continue to be the subject of debate. I particularly liked Catherine Baksi's post on the business blog in the Law Society Gazette, Should doom merchants have gone to Specsavers? In it, she tries to dispel fears about the competition from ABSs. She points out that a similar change took place in the optometry market in 1985, when the Opticians Act brought to an end the monopoly held by opticians to provide sight tests and dispense spectacles. At that time there were 3,500 independent optical outlets, and it was feared that most of these would be swallowed up or put out of business by new entrants to the market or established brands such as Boots. However, this did not happen and now there are more independent optical outlets than before. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the comparison between the optometry and legal services markets is valid.

Turning to other news, the SRA has announced that it is to consult on whether it should continue to set the annual minimum rate of pay for trainee solicitors. The minimum wage policy, which dates back to 1982, was designed to protect trainees from being exploited and to encourage high calibre graduates into the profession, but SRA Executive Director Samantha Barrass, said: "Our consultation paper explains that there is no clear evidence that setting a minimum salary for trainees fulfils any of the regulatory objectives within the Legal Services Act ...  It would appear that setting a minimum salary does not address any identified risk to the public interest or the rule of law, nor is it clear that it improves access to the profession". The consultation will look at the potential impact of deregulation. Personally, I fear for trainees if the minimum wage does go, particularly in the present economic climate.

Lastly, on the subject of access to the profession, I have somewhat belatedly come across PRIME, an excellent initiative aimed at helping students from less privileged backgrounds get work experience in the legal profession. If you also missed the launch of PRIME, have a look at this video: