DWF has threatened an ex-trainee with court action if he does not repay £12,000.

The firm's training contract contains a clause stating that trainees are liable to repay the money it expends on their LPC fees if they leave before they are two years qualified. Such clauses are not uncommon these days, and unsurprising given that firms invest thousands of pounds in each trainee and would rather they didn't move immediately to a competitor on qualification. Which is apparently what happened to DWF, and this time it decided to play hardball.

According to RollOnFriday's source, the former trainee claims that he only learnt about the clause during an induction session at the beginning of his first seat. Though as a nascent lawyer he possibly should have read it in his contract before he signed it two years earlier. Prior to qualification he accepted a job from another firm because DWF was "dithering" about making an offer, and he has now been told to repay his benefactor.

  A model trainee yesterday

DWF's spokeswoman told RollOnFriday that although the firm has never taken a trainee to court, "there’s no point having a clause in a contract if you are not prepared to enforce it". She confirmed that "in one recent case we did look to do so", due, the firm said, to the particular circumstances.   

The firm claimed that the repayment clause is made "very clear" in offer letters which are "only two pages long" and usually sent to prospective trainees two years before they join.The spokeswoman added that "if they’ve not properly read the letter or the contract during that time we’d suggest they might want to perhaps consider a different profession".
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Anonymous 22 April 16 09:27

So would DWF's clause require NQs to work for them even at minimum wage? It seems surprising that the NQ could be faced with the choice of (say) accepting minimum wage, or leaving but repaying £12,000.

Anonymous 22 April 16 09:44

SRA. Could you please intervene here. This is an outrageous abuse by DWF of those in a vulnerable position.

Roll On Friday 22 April 16 10:04

2 years PQE?! that's outrageous!

Most firms only make you repay if you bail mid-training contract to go off and be an investment banker or something. No way they should be able to golden handcuff students into a 4 year stint.

Anonymous 22 April 16 10:05

Hold the press! Ex-student pays his own tuition fees. As a lawyer, I'd be embarrassed that I had signed a contract that I hadn't read though.

Roll On Friday 22 April 16 10:31

It sounds like DWF can be removed from the list of firms that good graduates may wish to consider applying to.

Anonymous 22 April 16 11:22

Ypells - "DWF can be removed from teh list of firms that good graduates may wish to consider"??? You think they were ever on the list. I should imagine most people accepting a DWF TC, with its ridiculous lock-in and claw back clauses and generaly career prospects of sub-mediocrity, did so because they had no other offers. I feel for them. The SRA does very little to protect heavily indebted students, who desperately need the certainty of a TC, from this kind of employment approach.

Anonymous 22 April 16 12:36

Employee accepts £12,000 from their employer under very clear conditions. Employee then resigns from employer triggering the repayment the employee agreed to. Employee refuses to repay. Employer has no choice but to consider legal action.
Entirely reasonable, no?

Roll On Friday 22 April 16 12:37

So many people want these training contract
It is nto an unreasonable clause given the cost of training someone and a lot of the time they make very little if any profit for you as a trainee so it is perfectly justifiable. I would have thought a year PQE would be easier to justify as longer might be a bit too much like a disguised restriction on trade and the clause might be void for being in restraint of trade. If his new employer wants him that much they can pay the fee.

The dithering is interesting though as if the firm led him to believe he might well not be made an offer it was perfectly reasonable he then looked elsewhere and helps his case that is a clause which acts as a restrictive covenant which is could be found to be unfair. Although is he an employee when a trainee and subject to laws on restraint of trade? I suppose so because they are in common law and would not require that you be employee, self employed partner or whatever and generically apply.

Anonymous 22 April 16 12:59

Perhaps the lock-in until 2yrs PQE is a bit harsh but come tf on - it even says above that "Prior to qualification he accepted a job from another firm" - so he hadn't even made it to qualification before he reneged on his contract! That's just a dumb premature move on his part. I also concur that as a trainee lawyer who didn't read his contract, perhaps this is not a career he should stick with. 'Vulnerable' my eye....

Roll On Friday 22 April 16 13:02

It is not a reasonable clause
Its designed to stop people leaving by unfairly penalizing them
If it was generally reasonable then the repayment would be on a sliding scale - unless DWF are trying to assert that the training costs are all fully recouped on the last day of year 4.

Anonymous 22 April 16 13:06

Probably worth calling their bluff.

If they sue, argue restraint of trade.

If you win, happy days.

If you lose, you've at least bloodied the nose of "the man" by giving DWF a load of negative publicity which will damage their business for years as it will highlight the unfavourable term and prospective trainees with an alternative TC offer will go elsewhere.

Anonymous 22 April 16 13:13

Got to be unreasonable and unenforceable, particularly given bargaining strength. Payment of costs of LPC is a benefit. Alternative formulation is to say that x% of salary for first two years is repayable in the event you leave within 4 years, which surely doesn't work.

Anonymous 22 April 16 13:58

Parsnip is, I believe, correct - absence of sliding scale plus extension past qualification for a further two years almost certainly makes it unenforceable. I don't think it's technically a restraint of trade issue though, I think the clause is likely to be deemed an unenforceable penalty. There's some ET case law on this I believe - from hazy memory it basically says that clawback has to be genuine pre-estimate of loss at point at which loss crystallises and therefore usually needs to diminish over time. I'm a bit rusty on this though - perhaps an employment law specialist can confirm (or correct me!).

Anyway, irrespective of the contractual position, it's an incredibly shoddy and classless tactic from DWF. 12k is sod all from their perspective but probably the best part of a year's post-tax salary for the individual concerned. And the patronising attitude of the spokesperson stinks.

Anonymous 22 April 16 14:06

"Last time I looked, Law firms didn't have registered charitable status " - well they don't pay tax on income either so...........

Anonymous 22 April 16 14:08

Perhaps said trainee could have requested his new employer indemnify them against the repayment should it arise as a result of them joining the new firm. The new firm clearly wanted them so it's plausible they would have been content with this unless they're a firm that doesn't offer TCs or pay for LPC fees etc.

All that would of course depend on the trainee having read their TC in the first place though. Maybe just food for thought for other trainees out there with such a clause in their contract.

Anonymous 22 April 16 14:17

£12k just in time for year end - definitely worth the damage to their reputation. Top, top law firm.

Anonymous 22 April 16 15:02

This is outrageous. What if DWF can only qualify him into a seat which he hates? Is he trapped for two years?

I agree that he should have read the TC and now he has to stick to it, but it's still poor practice by DWF.

Anonymous 22 April 16 15:06

So cheap - heard there's no team budgets so staff have to minesweep drinks in Bar Opus on nights out.

Anonymous 22 April 16 17:43

So cheep - according to my mate who's doing his TC at the London office, money is so tight barely any cleaners make it to the bogs during the week, so whenever a phantom shitter blasts the bowl, trainees are asked to grab a can of Domestos and a brush to help out.

Dire stuff.

Anonymous 22 April 16 21:10

Swings and roundabouts. Won't the new employer be aware of the debt and offset it against the NQ's salary?

Anonymous 22 April 16 21:59

Excerpts from some of DWF’s graduate recruitment brochures: “We will support you with all the arrangements including paying your fees”; “DWF sponsors the funding for the LPC course”. Hmm, no mention of a fee clawback, but maybe I haven’t ‘properly read’ the brochures. On an entirely separate topic, does anyone know anything about misrepresentation law, Chapter 8 of the SRA Code (“The overriding concern is that publicity is not misleading and is sufficiently informative to ensure that clients and others can make informed choices”) and what constitutes a ‘misleading omission’ under marketing and advertising law?

Anonymous 22 April 16 22:39

Andrew Leaitherland can’t have sanctioned this. This approach lacks morals and commerciality, whereas Leaitherland is smart and values driven - he will surely have a word with whichever middle manager devised this and bring a close to this sorry saga.

Anonymous 23 April 16 00:22

Shocked. He's thrown away a promising career typing covering letters for Defences drafted by Counsel, Part 18s drafted by Counsel, Part 35s drafted by Counsel and various applications for relief drafted by Counsel. If he'd slogged it out they might have let him draft the actual Brief to Counsel!

Anonymous 27 April 16 09:00

Great story, rich in human interest and compelling for its "there but for" go I.

Tuck in to two years in the personal injury sweatshop seat, or repay twelve grand.