Editor’s weekly: Retention tension

It’s widely accepted that the market for graduate jobs in the legal sector is very weak indeed. But what about prospects for the scores of final seat trainees due to qualify in September?

The short answer is that it’s not looking great. Not only are retention rates taking a battering it’s possible to count the number of vacancies for newly qualified (NQ) solicitors with my fingers.

Retention rates for September 2009 qualifiers at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, for instance, have dropped to 70 per cent with fellow magic circle firm Allen & Overy expecting a similar level.

However, it’s not all bad news with Bird & Bird and US firms Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom all boasting an impressive 100 per cent retention rate. Indeed, the US firms appear to be doing a better job of holding onto their NQs with Latham & Watkins and Weil Gotshal & Manges reporting retention rates of 78 per cent and 85 per cent respectively. That said, NQs at Shearman & Sterling weren’t as lucky with 36 per cent being shown the exit (see story).

Bird & Bird, meanwhile, also saw one of the City’s oldest trainees qualify at the age of 50. Mary Smilie, the former technical director of pharmaceuticals company Teva, even managed to complete her training contract six months early proving that anything’s possible even in such grim times (see story).

Incidentally, if you are due to qualify later this year then I recommend reading our How to Survive: Qualification in a Downturn feature, written by legal recruitment consultant Jonathan Kay (read article).

Elsewhere, BPP Holdings the owner of BPP Law School is being taken over by Apollo Global for £303.5m (see story). Though the deal, which has been on the cards for some time, isn’t expected to have any direct impact on those of you who are due to enrol with BPP in the Autumn it does raise serious questions over whether an institution that’s soon to owned by American’s should have the power to award degrees.

Husnara Begum