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Training contract numbers take another tumble

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Newly-released figures show that there were 205 fewer training contracts registered in latest recruitment round

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Just when the graduate legal job market seemed to be recovering, new figures from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have revealed that training contract numbers have fallen again.

Only 5,097 training contracts were registered between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014 — a drop of more than 200 on 2012-13 when 5,302 training contracts were registered.

During this period the number of people graduating from the Legal Practice Course (LPC) increased slightly, going from 6,036 to 6,171.

The 2012-13 training contract figure had marked a substantial rise on the 2011-2012 total of 4,869 trainee places, generating hope of a sustained recovery towards to the 2007-08 high of 6,303 training contracts.

But this latest fall, which comes at a time when the wider economy is stuttering, suggests that it may be some time yet until the legal profession recovers its pre-financial crisis levels of demand for graduates.

The news won’t come as a complete surprise to watchers of the City law graduate recruitment market, which makes up a substantial chunk of the total number of training contracts each year.

Leading corporate firms like Freshfields, Allen & Overy, Pinsent Masons, Mayer Brown and Baker & McKenzie have all cut training contract numbers for this year’s recruitment round.

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The falls are related to the growing use of paralegals — a trend which is being accelerated by the “northshoring” of lower cost legal work to offices in the north of England.

Responding to the news of the fall in training contract numbers, Junior Lawyers Division chair Max Harris told Legal Cheek:

“I not entirely surprised that the number of training contracts has gone down. It’s possible that it relates to firms moving to a more paralegal heavy structure, decreasing the amount of official trainees.”

However, Harris is worried that the fall could also be partially a result of the scrapping of the trainee minimum salary last year. He added:

“There may be a correlation with abolition of the minimum salary in August, with firms waiting until it no longer applies in order to offer training contracts at rates of £12,000-£13,000 per year.”