That the news in this issue has a somewhat pessimistic feel will not come as a huge surprise. The market is tough for everyone, with junior lawyers and partners feeling the pinch in equal measure.
A testament to just how tough, is that although throughout the downturn firms have sworn that they would not make the same mistakes as they did in the last recession, it seems they have not been able to avoid instituting wide-ranging cost-cutting measures.
But although retention rates for newly-qualified solicitors have dropped significantly, salaries have been cut and the recruitment market is still contracting, firms have not abandoned their trainees altogether. Innovative thinking is still being applied to the training of the UK’s future lawyers. Most importantly in a downturn, this thinking is currently being applied to the counter-cyclical business of litigation.
Clifford Chance‘s ‘optional’ litigation seat (see page 2) indicates how polarised legal training is becoming. While the magic circle firm will continue to cater for lawyers across a broad range of specialisations, the same luxury will not be afforded at every firm. Specialisation is taking place even earlier in the education programme so it is crucial to decide from the outset what type of lawyer you want to become.
For those of you keen on pursuing a career in litigation, particularly in advocacy, Herbert Smith’s innovative new strategy is also worth noting (see page 5). Training in a law firm before switching codes to the bar is often now considered the best route to a career in this area. Herbert Smith’s chambers, however, turns that theory on its head, with its inherent admission that solicitor-advocacy just isn’t working.
Although several of the UK’s top 20 firms may now employ almost 50 solicitor-advocates each, the likelihood is that few of them will enjoy any real courtroom experience. Despite the pressures on the junior bar, it may still offer the best option for advocacy and the commercial bar is more successful than ever – The Lawyer’s Bar Top 30 recently found that your average Joe Barrister tenanted in one of the top 30 chambers would earn a gross income of 316,000, up 10 per cent on last year.
Whatever your game plan, this issue also contains Lawyer 2B’s first-ever careers guide, an essential read for anyone entering the legal profession.