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5 ways that ditching the trainee recruitment code could affect how firms treat students

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Regulator’s controversial decision to abandon trainee recruitment code of practice will make City law graduate hiring more investment bank-like

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) has announced that it is to withdraw from the trainee recruitment code of practice at the end of this month — six months earlier than expected when news of the regulator’s controversial move broke last week.

Law students should take note, as this could have an immediate impact on firms’ behaviour towards them. Some of the potential changes are welcome, others not so much …

1. Training contract application deadlines brought forward

The code stipulates that the training contract application deadline should fall on 31 July. But from the end of the month that requirement will be gone, meaning that firms can close applications when they want.

Accordingly, there is now nothing to stop 2015 application deadlines been brought forward. Indeed, this has been already happening, with Clifford Chance this year already nudging ahead its deadline to 30 June. Such moves could have a big impact on students, leaving them with less time to complete applications — especially after the exam season.

From a firm’s perspective, of course, the deadline change wouldn’t be a bad thing, as they would receive more focused applications and less of the speculative ones which they find so irritating.

2. Pressure placed on students to accept training contract offers immediately

Another worry for wannabe lawyers is that there is now nothing to stop firms putting pressure on them to accept offers. The scrapping of the code means that the 28 day period which students were granted to consider training contract offers before accepting won’t exist this summer.

While plenty of firms will probably keep the month-long grace period in the spirit of fairness, some might not, moving instead towards “exploding offers” which are retracted unless a candidate accepts them quickly. If this happens, expect an effect on newly qualified solicitor retention rates later down the line as students who weren’t allowed time to properly consider which firm they joined look for moves after their training contracts.

3. Vac schemes replaced by longer investment bank-style internships

The ditching of the code probably won’t change the recruitment timetable massively, but it will more closely align it to other sectors — particularly banking.

So, out may go short two-week vac schemes to be replaced by longer investment bank-style internships. The advantage of this way of operating to law firms would be that they’d be able eliminate competition for the top talent from their rivals by having students with them for most of the summer. At which point the firms could move fast and make training contract offers.

Then — following the investment banking model — there would be a Clearing-style system of topping up any training contract vacancies opening in the late summer with the recruitment process running through to February.

The downside for law students, of course, is that they wouldn’t be able to do multiple placements at different firms to get a broad taste of life as a lawyer. But at least by narrowing their options at an earlier stage there would be less application form-filling.

4. Unsuccessful applicants rejected more quickly

Under the current system students don’t only have to wait until 1 September to find out if they’ve been offered a training contract, but also to hear if they’ve been rejected. This means months of uncertainty for a lot of people — it’s often overlooked that for every person who is made an offer there are tens of people rejected.

So at least scrapping the code will mean that students can now be turned down in a timely manner, hopefully with feedback which they can absorb and move on with.

5. Top students handed sign-on bonuses

Without the code there is nothing now to stop students accepting an offer, only to withdraw later on and then accept an offer elsewhere. This behaviour is expected in most industries and seen less in law — partly due to the code, but also because of financial commitments made by firms for students’ Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course fees.

With less restrictions on students, law firms could follow investment banks in offering a sign-on bonus to counteract people messing them around. The last thing they want is someone withdrawing from a training contract offer just before they are about to start the LPC.


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Fears of trainee recruitment free-for-all as solicitor watchdog threatens to bin code of practice [Legal Cheek]