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Do retention rates really matter?

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  • All it really means is how many people after their training contracts stayed on at the firm. The figures themselves don't really say a lot as some firms may only have a few NQ positions to offer and others may have the trainees refuse to stay on post-qualification. Use them as a guide, like the firm's turnover, as to the firm's success and wealth and ability to hold on to people. Find the firms you like first, then see their retention rates then get in contact with people at the firm and ask first-hand as anyone who qualified there will be able to say about the retention rates when they qualified; how many left for pastures new compared to those who the firm could not keep on and those the firm let go of at first chance.

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  • One year's retention rates tell you very little. But there may be a pattern over a number of years. Some firms take on only as many trainees as they think they will need associates. Some trainees don't want to stay on for one reason or another and others are found wanting by the firm and not kept on. My understanding is that the published retention rates are based only on those trainees who express an interest in staying, which is slightly weasley if many people are given a clear picture that they're not wanted and therefore don't bother to ask to stay on.

    In terms of what the retention numbers mean for would-be trainees, I would argue that unless there's a persistent pattern of a firm taking on lots more trainees than they need associates, it's not something to worry about.

    In terms of pupillages, the guide to pupillages (available from law schools -- white cover with red lettering, can't remember the official name) does say how many pupils a set takes on and how many have been offered pupillages in the past three years. Some sets are notorious for taking on 2-3 times as many pupils as they will want tenants. But that is why there is a system of third sixes etc. Other sets genuinely only take on the number of pupils that they are looking to recruit as tenants. As the bar is small, it generally pretty easy to find out which sets are which by word of mouth because the way the stats are set up is highly confusing.

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