Training contract turbulence — some firms boost numbers, others slash

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By Judge John Hack on

EXCLUSIVE: The latest training contract rises at CMS Cameron McKenna and Irwin Mitchell contrast with drops at Freshfields and other top City outfits as targets are announced for 2014-15 recruitment round


Uncertainty over the wider economy and the strength of recovery after a profound recession is reflected in the latest trainee numbers at big law firms in the City and leading national players.

Legal Cheek can reveal that some — such as CMS Cameron McKenna and Irwin Mitchell — are plumping for optimism, upping their trainee intakes by 6.5% and 25%, respectively, for the latest recruitment round kicking into effect next month.

At international franchise practice CMS — which merged with Scotland’s Dundas & Wilson last May — that means an increase from 75 to 80 training contracts in the 2014-15 recruitment round for the combined firm, while Sheffield-based insurance giant Irwin Mitchell is raising its graduate intake from 40 to 50.

The rises are of the scale announced last month by global shipping and aviation law specialist practice Clyde & Co, which is increasing its trainee numbers from 35 to 50.

Other firms, however, are still downsizing. Last Friday we revealed that the London office of international Chicago-based giant Baker & McKenzie and magic circle practice Allen & Overy had cut trainee numbers (by 12% and 5%, respectively) as they plan to move more work to their Belfast support centres. Indeed, Baker has dropped from 34 to 30 places, while A&O has gone from 90 to 85.

Those aren’t the only firms to have cut training contracts. Legal Cheek can reveal that Freshfields is reducing its graduate intake by 11% from 90 to 80, while Pinsent Masons is also taking on fewer graduates in this recruitment year — with numbers falling from 80 to 75.

The axe also fell at the London office of another US global firm. In July, Mayer Brown announced a 25% cut, albeit to a relatively small number of training contracts, down from 20 to 15.

Those looking for a pattern in all of this may struggle, but the experts predict that with the legal services market rapidly evolving, accepted conventions around training will soon disappear.

Nigel Savage, the recently retired president and chief executive of the University of Law and now a law firm consultant, commented to Legal Cheek that evolution meant many big firms were changing their recruitment priorities.

“There is considerable consolidation in the market and some firms are enthusiastically embracing commoditisation of services,” said Savage, adding:

“Increasingly, the issue will move away from of how many training contract places exist in the solicitors’ profession in the City to the wider question of how many roles there are in the overall legal market.”

Tony Williams, the head of legal profession consultancy Jomati, agreed. “Firms are struggling to decide on the business model of the future,” he told Legal Cheek, claiming that it was likely that more large practices would reduce the number of training positions than those increasing places.

“When you’ve got a process centre in Northern Ireland or Glasgow, you don’t need as many trainees as you did in the past,” explained Williams.

He also maintained that “clients are less willing than they were to pay for trainees”, meaning they are increasingly almost exclusively an overhead for law firms. “Providing training contracts is an expensive business,” continued Williams. But he suggested there was a silver lining:

“For those students in the future that get training contracts, the situation will be better. There will be fewer of them so they will be more valued by their firms, not least because the firms will be able generate income from them more quickly.”

Training contract turbulence: firms where TC numbers are falling


Training contract turbulence: firms where TC numbers are on the up



Baker & McKenzie cuts training contract numbers by 12% as new Belfast support centre announced [Legal Cheek]

Now there are 3 big law firms offering more training contracts than they did last year [Legal Cheek]