An Adelaide law firm has caused controversy and is now under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman after it’s been revealed that it plans to charge graduates almost half an average annual salary to participate in a two-year employment and mentoring program.
Adlawgroup, will provide short-term ‘job’ placements for newly admitted lawyers from July in an effort to address the lack of employment opportunities for young lawyers in South Australia.
Law students have labelled the two-year work placements as “exploitive”, yet the company said it was responding to an oversupply of law graduates, who are desperate for work.
The advertisements for “junior lawyers” were advertised on the job site Seek.com.au, but have since been removed.
The firm’s plan included the proposal that after paying an up-front fee of $22,000, ‘employees’ will be able to earn an income through supervised work. The payment covers the cost of education programs as well as the cost of an unrestricted practising certificate.
In South Australia, admitted lawyers must do two years of supervised work on a continuous full-time basis before they can practice independently.
In order to bridge this gap, the firm outlines on their website that the $22,000 fee as an “investment in the future” and “a cost-effective alternative to higher legal education or the pursuit of alternate tertiary qualifications”.
“The $22,000 fee is the price for participation in the program,”Adlawgroup project manager Tina Hailstone said.
“It covers a number of things and reflects to a certain extent the cost of being able to provide the opportunity for these students, or well, graduates.
“In the first instance there are quite a few people who’ve said ‘Yes, please, we’d really like to sign up’.
“There is also very few opportunities for the recently admitted lawyer.”
A Fair Work Ombudsman spokeswoman said the workplace watchdog was “making inquiries” about the company.
The spokeswoman said it was illegal to charge an employee for a job.
What makes this proposal even more ridiculous is that there is no guaranteed income for those graduates who pay for a job. Adlawgroup said its junior lawyers can make money, but only if they do work for clients.
But Ms Hailstone said any income was not guaranteed for the junior lawyers who would be hired.
“The employment contract is a different thing, the fees that they earn, the income they earn is derived from providing legal services to our clients,” she said.
She said junior lawyers who did not get work with clients would “probably want to move on”.
Marie Iskander from Australian Law Students’ Association said she thought Adlawgroup’s pay-for-a-job model was unethical.
“We’d hate to see this business model take off and become the norm, or be emulated anywhere else in Australia,” Ms Iskander said.
“It’s clearly something that’s an opportunist business model that’s taking advantage of our law graduates.”
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