A recent Federal Circuit Court decision considered a Melbourne based law firm’s employment of a law student (who was the applicant in the matter) who was paid just $9.65 an hour.
At first instance the respondent unsuccessfully argued that as he was a work experience student there was no breach of the Award or contravention of the Act. The Respondent later conceded at trial that the applicant was employed by the respondent and was therefore covered by the Legal Services Award 2010.
In her scathing decision, Her Honour Judge Jones found that the Respondent was in contravention of various sections of the Fair Work Act 2009 (“the Act”) including for failing to pay wages, superannuation, leave entitlements, provide payslips and maintain employee records during his period of employment.
Warlows Legal acted for the law student in this matter. “This was an excellent outcome for our client, and should serve as a warning to law firms and other SMEs” said Warlows Legal Employment Law Senior Associate Eyal D’vier.
Law students who are able to initiate research and engage in some tasks such as preparing Court books and maintaining files in a reasonably independent way, albeit not unsupervised, should be employed at least under Level 4 of the Legal Services Award 2010 at $23.23 per hour, or approximately $44,000 per annum.
College of Law chief executive Neville Carter said there were 8300 law graduates in Australia last year, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for graduates of law to find a full time position as a lawyer.
This increasing pressure has created a market place where law students are desperate to gain experience and many are undertaking unpaid positions, or accepting pay well below the minimum wage.