Fresh hope for trainees

Improved retention rates point to a healthier legal jobs market, says Laura Manning

Trainee solicitors can breathe a sigh of relief as the latest newly qualified (NQ) retention rates point to further recovery in the legal jobs market. Of the top 20 firms in The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report 2011, two-thirds posted retention rates of 80 per cent or more.

Slaughter and May once again boasted figures at the top of the scale, retaining 100 per cent of trainees. This is an improvement on the past two sets of already strong results, with the firm posting rates of 96 per cent in March and 93 per cent in ­September 2010.

DWF and RPC were the only other UK firms to retain all their qualifying solicitors, while US firms once again steamed ahead in the retention rate tables, with Sidley Austin and Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis also keeping 100 per cent of September qualifiers. For the US firms, that equates to seven and six NQs respectively.

New York firm Shearman & ­Sterling announced a retention rate of 92 per cent for the second year ­running, offering NQ roles to 11 out of 12 autumn qualifiers.

Shearman graduate recruitment manager Matthew Readings said: “We’ve consistently retained over 80 per cent of our trainees in the past few years. We have a strong focus on organic growth, so we put a lot of effort into aligning our trainee intake with future business needs.”

Fellow US firm Weil Gotshal & Manges managed to boost its City retention rate significantly from ­September 2010, keeping on 75 per cent compared with 70 per cent the previous year.

“Our aim is to recruit to retain,” said Weil HR and graduate recruitment manager Jillian Singh. “We don’t have an army of trainees, but we aim to have around 10 in each intake so hopefully we’ll retain them on qualification and continue to help them develop their legal skills and progress their legal career with us.”

Elsewhere, Ashurst saw an improvement in its retention rate after keeping on 26 of its 28 September qualifiers. That is the equivalent of 93 per cent – an improvement on the 87 per cent kept on in the previous year.

Other UK firms to post strong results were Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and Nabarro, which both kept on 95 per cent of trainees.

The magic circle, meanwhile, revealed mixed results, with Linklaters and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer posting retention rates of 93 and 96 per cent respectively, while Clifford Chance retained 83 per cent. Clifford Chance has shown an improvement in the past few years, posting 79 and 70 per cent for ­September 2010 and September 2009 respectively.

Allen & Overy (A&O) had the worst retention rate of the magic circle, at 72 per cent – its worst figure for three years.

In a statement a spokesperson from A&O said: “Our September retention rate is disappointing, but it doesn’t reflect either our historic retention rate or our expectations for the future.”

In spring 2009 the firm boasted a 91 per cent retention rate, with 51 out of 56 trainees being offered NQ ­positions. One trainee decided not to apply for a position at the time.

This figure fell slightly in autumn 2009 and spring 2010 qualification rounds, when A&O retained more than 80 per cent of its NQ lawyers after warning final seat trainees that retention rates could crash to 70 per cent. Earlier this year the firm’s ­retention rate sat at 88 per cent.

Pinsent Masons, Clyde & Co and Taylor Wessing also posted results in the 70s, announcing 71, 77 and 74 per cent rates respectively.

The worst performers of those ­surveyed to date were Mills & Reeve and Dickinson Dees, which both shed 64 per cent of their September ­qualifiers. Mills & Reeve held on to only eight out of 22 trainees, while Dickinson Dees kept four out of 11.

Dickinson Dees managing partner Jonathan Blair said: “Eleven ­positions have been offered and accepted by four. Six of our trainees have ­chosen to relocate, ­primarily for ­personal reasons. This is disappointing, but we understand the reasoning and wish them well. We have 17 trainees joining us in ­September, which will take our total trainee ­headcount to 32.”

SNR Denton’s results also fell back, with the firm holding on to just 12 out of 23 trainees.