The scheme – which was meant to be run by WBH’s Adelaide-based adlawgroup – came under fire by the Law Society of South Australia (LSSA) and was subject to a Fair Work Ombudsman
Development for the business was suspended in September 2015 as a result of the controversy. This week, WBH Legal announced the firm would not be established.
Tina Hailstone, project manager for adlawgroup, defended the program last year.
“The $22,000 fee is the price for participation in the program,” she told ABC News
. “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.”
This week, the firm backed down from its paid scheme despite saying in a statement that “the concept [of adlawgroup] is not economically viable without asking the participating new lawyers to invest in their own futures”.
“While there were a significant number of applicants willing to pay the participation fee, the partners recognise that this carried the unpalatable consequence of creating an elitist solution to the fundamental problem of too many graduate and too few opportunities in law.”
In September, while conducting inquiries into WBH, the Fair Work Ombudsman had also indicated that it may have been illegal to charge employees for work.
"The Fair Work Act would apply if employees were required to make the payment once they have started work, or if it was deducted from their pay," an FWO spokesperson told the ABC
In a statement, the LSSA said it welcomed WBH’s decision not to continue with the program.
“In September last year, the Law Society completed its inquiry into adlawgroup and notified the firm of its serious concerns with the proposed program.”
Talking with ABC
, LSSA president David Caruso said that despite the “benevolent” motivation behind the scheme, the Society was worried about how it could create an uneven first step through which young people started their legal careers.
Marie Iskander from the Australian Law Students' Association slammed the scheme as “unethical”.
“We'd hate to see this business model take off and become the norm, or be emulated anywhere else in Australia,” she told ABC
. “It's clearly something that’s an opportunist business model that’s taking advantage of our law graduates.”
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Law firm WBH Legal has backed down on a controversial graduate program charging applicants $22,000 for a two-year work placement.