Newbies left out in the cold as retention rates plummet

Trainees struggle to keep jobs as law firms hit hard by economic slump

Newly qualified lawyers have been hit hard by a dramatic fall in the retention rates across the top 50 firms in the UK. Research by Lawyer 2B has shown that retention rates have fallen in some firms by as much as 30 per cent.

Among the worst affected is SJ Berwin, which retained just 61 per cent of its September qualifiers, a fall of 20 per cent on 2002. At Denton Wilde Sapte, only 28 of 48 September qualifiers were kept on. A Dentons spokesperson said that an excess of trainees following the merger of Wilde Sapte and Denton Hall back in 1999, was to blame.

Another recently merged firm, Jones Day Gouldens, offered jobs to just 58 per cent of its September qualifiers. In 2002, prior to the merger, the figure for Gouldens was 80 per cent.

Scottish firm Dundas & Wilson did not keep on any of its London trainees this year and has offered jobs to less than 60 per cent of trainees firmwide.

The news will come as a particularly savage blow to the London trainees, who started their legal careers at Andersen Legal firm Garretts, the English law firm that collapsed as a result of the Enron scandal.

Dundas, which was also a member of the Andersen legal network, stepped in to rescue the trainees, but has now been forced to scale down its recruitment because of the current economic climate.

The biggest humiliation was reserved for a firm outside the top 50. Trainees at Birmingham-based Martineau Johnson were made redundant by email after the firm announced that only one out of its 10 trainees would be retained upon qualification.

Martineaus senior partner William Baker said: Once we made the decision, we wanted to tell them straight away. We couldnt get everyone to a meeting to tell them straight away and we wanted to inform people at the same time so that some didnt know before others got to know. Thats why we sent them an email.

Baker added: Its not as callous as it sounds: the email does contain an invitation for [the trainees] to talk to the director of HR about the decision and it was also copied to the heads of department.

Technology firm Taylor Wessing offered posts to 14 out of 21 of its qualifiers a modest improvement on the 12 out of 20 who were offered jobs the previous year. Only three qualified into the firms flagship intellectual property department the same number as for real estate.

The magic circle continued to post respectable retention figures, with all except Linklaters retaining in excess of 90 per cent of their trainees. But the real triumphs came from a handful of mid-sized mid-market players, with both Wragge & Co and Macfarlanes retaining all their trainees. Private client outfit Withers also kept on all 10 of its September qualifiers.

Meanwhile, the firm with the highest salary rates for newly-qualified lawyers, White & Case, offered jobs to all eight of its September batch.

Discussing the figures, one out-of-work September qualifier said: I used to think the hard part was getting the training contract, now I know its being kept on.