Final-seat trainees sweat as fewer NQ roles available

Trainees approaching qualification are polishing up their CVs, with market commentators reporting that at many firms, fewer newly-qualified (NQ) roles are on offer than in past years.

Sean Doherty of Douglas Scott Recruitment said there are a lot of trainees with their CVs on the market this year. “We’re seeing people from a range of firms: whether it is some fall-out from the collapse of King & Wood Mallesons, I don’t know,” he said. Law firms across London took extra trainees on when KWM went into administration.

“It is strange – I have spoken to trainees at an elite US firm that hasn’t even started its internal process [of making positions available for final-seat trainees] yet, which is a bit surprising. Normally this sort of thing is sorted much earlier.”

Meanwhile, sources close to Hogan Lovells say the firm initially offered 30 NQ jobs for September – enough to accommodate every final-seat trainee – but after interviews revoked a number of them.

A spokesperson for Hogan Lovells said: “Our global business, like every successful business, is constantly evolving and changing in response to client and market demand. Roles may be withdrawn or added during what is a fluid five-month qualification process, as has happened during this round.

“As always, we are committed to placing as many trainees as possible, and it is key to ensure the candidates and the role are the right fit. The qualification process is ongoing and there are sufficient positions available for our trainees who wish to remain with us on qualification.”

The firm clarified that while two places has been revoked another two had been created in their place.

In Manchester, the autumn 2017 retention round is also shaping up to be a tense one for qualifiers.

Sources say that final-seat trainees in the city are looking for jobs at new firms in far greater numbers than last year.

“We are currently recruiting NQs for September and have received applications from trainees at most of the national firms,” said the managing partner of one Manchester-based firm.

“They are telling us that last year, those firms had room for four or five NQs in some of their departments, but this year they are taking one or none.”

“It seems to be a consistent trend across the national firms in Manchester, which is a worrying sign that the work isn’t there.”

However, the entrance of London and US firms into the market has increased the potential salary that Manchester lawyers can earn.

Firms including Latham & Watkins, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Berwin Leighton Paisner now all have offices in the city.

“For the first time, we’ve heard of an NQ being offered £51,000 to go to a firm in Manchester,” one market source said.

Some commentators did predict that September’s retention round will not be as bad as initially feared. “It’s a disjointed round, because it’s been a disjointed year – a lot of things have happened in the world,” one source said. “We’re currently in the season when NQs are are a bit jittery – but my hunch is that things will come together in the next few weeks and retention will be better than anticipated.”

Everyone will get a job, added Doherty, “but whether it’s their first choice of firm or department is another question.”

Only three firms have released their retention figures for the autumn so far: Burges Salmon, Blake Morgan and Mayer Brown.

Autumn 2017 retention Trainees retained Trainees left Total number of qualifiers Percentage retained
Burges Salmon 28 0 28 100
Blake Morgan 8 1 9 88.8
Mayer Brown 8 3 11 72.7