Deal or no deal

"Hooray. It's pay day! deal."

A tribunal has ruled that a firm unfairly dismissed a trainee at the start of the lockdown, after she complained about unpaid wages.

Nicolette Browne-Marke joined NR Solicitors in January 2019 as a paralegal. Although the firm had never registered her as a trainee, the employment tribunal said that Browne-Marke effectively worked as a trainee, as NR Solicitors had promised her that role after a short probation period. 

Browne-Marke, who represented herself at the tribunal, said that her annual salary of £14,000 was paid in an "intermittent and erratic" manner and sometimes in cash. As a result, she had financial issues, and told her boss that she did not have enough money for her bus fare, or to pay for travel expenses to court.

In March 2020, Browne-Marke had to work from home due to the office being close because of the pandemic. The firm claimed that she had neglected to file a piece of work on time - but Browne-Marke denied receiving such instructions. She also said she was unable to send files from home as her Wi-Fi had been cut, as the firm hadn't paid her wages in full.

The trainee emailed the firm's management stating that there was a shortfall in her pay, and asked for an update as to when she would be paid in full. However, NR Solicitors dismissed the trainee four days later, which fell on the first day of the full lockdown. The firm claimed that it had fired her due to her performance and attitude, as well as an unauthorised absence.

The firm had given a "muddled and contradictory account" as to why the trainee was dismissed, said the tribunal, and ruled that the principal reason for the firm dismissing Browne-Marke, was her email complaint about not being paid in full.

The tribunal ruled that NR Solicitors pay £14,251 to Browne-Marke in compensation.

"My reaction to the tribunal finding in my favour was one of shock and joy," Browne-Marke told RollOnFriday. "On the one hand, I did believe I had a strong case and I had been treated abysmally by the firm, but on the other hand as I was doing everything by myself and I was against a law firm, I didn’t think it would be found in my favour. I am just happy that the judge accepted my truthful version of events over their muddled and incorrect version." 

NR Solicitors told RollOnFriday that the firm is appealing the decision.

Tip Off ROF


Nottelling 21 May 21 09:42

Surely this is not an SRA matter. These type of clowns need to have their firm intervened in and the partners struck off.

WTF 21 May 21 09:59

As Notelling said - how is this firm not being investigated further? Failing to organise payroll, giving a muddled and contradictory account in legal proceedings...what other red flags do the SRA need to get involved on this.

Also can someone please give Nicolette a training contract (if she doesn't have one already) ! 

rumpypumpyesq 21 May 21 10:20

Considering the relatively minor mistakes that trainees make to get barred from the profession, it does make you wonder why firms aren't held to the same (or more stringent) account.

Stan Smith 21 May 21 10:43

I always thought even in larger firms paralegals are chronically underpaid, given their work ethic is, more often than not, ridiculous since the TC carrot is dangled in front of them.

But £14k.... seriously?!?! 

another anonymous 21 May 21 11:57

10.45 - the law firm had two options about what to say.

Option 1 'we accept we were wrong and will pay up' OR

Option 2 'we will appeal the decision'

Option 2 is consistent with their previous conduct of the case...


NQ seeking BigLaw 21 May 21 12:53

Sounds pretty damn top... Do they pay their NQs the full-fat Cravath whack? Anybody know?

FT 21 May 21 13:02

This story is all too depressing to read and brings back a lot of unpleasant memories.

If I'd had my right wits about me when I was a trainee I'd have done something similar. I should have walked, and threatened to report it to the SRA, and taken it to an employment tribunal.

I was training in a small practice in central London - where there was very interesting and decent-quality work going on it must be said - but I was constantly being underpaid, constantly being promised that I'd get paid the rest, a few dribs and drabs coming in but being left woefully short. I was expected to work long hours but in fact was not even getting paid for the ones contractually agreed to.

I struggled with my bills - my phone kept getting cut off, on more than one occasion not even having bus fare to get to work, constantly having to ask family to bail me out which was humiliating... if I hadn't been blessed enough to be living with a sibling at the time I would have literally ended up homeless and living off the generosity of friends. At the time I told myself just to stick with it, as finding a TC back then was incredibly difficult in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, so I just counted myself lucky that I'd be able to qualify unlike many other very capable peers of mine who were having no luck. 

I stupidly always gave my principal the benefit of the doubt, the young green naive fool I was and he knew how to manipulate me into accepting it as my lot. There was once even the prospect of moving my TC to an established, reputable firm and to this day I am kicking myself for letting my misplaced sense of loyalty turn it down and keep me where I was. I'm not generally one for regrets, but if there was one thing I could go back and change it would be that. I am in little doubt that my career would have developed very differently had I gone for it.

My TC was completed and with a promise that I'd be paid the remainder of what I was owed. I've since moved back to my home country and am practicing here, but to this day I am still owed a very hefty amount from my former principal. Some semi-threatening emails managed to squeeze a few more grand out of him, but after that, nothing. Commencing proceedings or anything of the sort would be just too much upfront cost, stress and hassle seeing as I'm abroad now, and I've basically written off any chance of getting what I'm owed. 

To all trainees and prospective trainees - do not accept that sort of conduct from anyone. Threaten to walk and report it to the SRA. There is no excuse - absolutely none whatsoever - for a firm or practice to not pay you. It is completely inexcusable. If they are unable to pay their staff, they simply have no business providing legal services to the public as it is indicative of far more serious problems.

No training contract is worth debasing yourself like that - your time and effort is valuable and never let anyone make you think otherwise. You went through the hard work of law school - the countless hours of study, the sleepless nights, the strain on your relationships, the sacrifices, all the extra-curriculars you did and extra miles you went in order to land a TC. You bloody well deserve every last penny you get paid and anyone denying you the payment that they are contractually bound to give is simply beyond the pale. Knowing what you and your time is worth is vital in this (and indeed any) profession and I needed a big reminder of all that.

I think this might be the first time I've properly written all that out. I just usually try not to think about it because it gets me down. The effect on my self-esteem from all this was a lot bigger than I wanted to admit for a long time, and only now when I'm settled into practice and life is generally falling into place have I properly been able to realise it and process everything that happened.

So any trainees or prospective trainees - don't make the same mistakes I did. Fight for your pay if you have to. You are not a volunteer. Reach out to other colleagues or friends for advice and don't just try to stoically bear with it like I did. You end up losing a lot more than just money.

Anonymous 21 May 21 15:08

Money is not everything. Think about dreams, poetry and adventures in a place far far away. 

Even slaves are paid more.

10% deduction 22 May 21 08:45

Anybody asking Bosso to pay them in full got sacked too.  
We are all waiting for him to do the decent thing and pay us what we are owed.  It will be a long wait I guess. 

Escaped :) 27 May 21 07:26

Lots of law firms have used the pandemic to cut employees contractual salaries without their consent, forcing staff to resign and move elsewhere. We had several staff leave for that reason and one experienced paralegal was on less than minimum wage and forced on to benefits after her pay was cut without her agreement. But no pay cuts for partners or their few chosen selective favourites. Thats [redacted] for you. No wonder they have several employment claims recently, but then thats the beauty of NDA’s (and not for a public interest reason as a justification). 

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