Signs that City graduate recruitment departments are already moving towards a training contract free for all as the regulator ditches existing guidelines
Nearly nine out of 10 law students want law firms to adhere to an agreed timetable when recruiting trainings, amid signs that City practice are breaking ranks from a voluntary code of practice.
One law firm recruitment expert has told Legal Cheek that several Square Mile players are on the verge of triggering a free-for-all scramble for talent following the professional regulators’ move to withdraw its backing for the historic gentlemen’s agreement.
It is understood that last week at least one firm was offering training contracts to second-year university students instead of waiting until the third year as the code suggests.
Understandably, wannabe lawyers are not happy. A survey released yesterday shows 89% backing among students for an existing voluntary code of conduct guiding law firm recruitment behaviour — despite the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) walking away from the code several weeks ago.
Conducting the research into the code — which was last revised in 2007 — was the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society of England and Wales, the Association of Graduate Recruiters and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.
All three groups signalled their backing for the “voluntary code to good practice in the recruitment of trainee solicitors”, which recommends that training contract offers should not be dangled in front of law students before 1 September in their last year at university.
It goes on to suggest that TC offers be left open for at least a month before being withdrawn, and that lucky students receiving more than two offers must immediately reject those they don’t fancy.
But at the beginning of March, the SRA — which had been the fourth signatory to the code — backed away from the agreement. The SRA’s executive policy director, Crispin Passmore, maintained that it was “beyond our regulatory remit to uphold the code, as it is essentially a commitment to good recruitment practice. Our withdrawal does not reflect any view of the code’s benefits for firms or potential trainees”.
In a statement, the SRA said: “the code has always been voluntary, and universities and employers may continue to comply with the code in future if they wish”.
And that is exactly what they should do, argued Max Harris, the JLD chairman and associate at the London office of Baker & McKenzie. “The principles of the code remain valuable for both firms and students,” he said.
But there will be mounting concern that it was the regulator that provided the most oomph to the code — at least in the eyes of Square Mile law firms.
Now that the SRA has bailed out, City graduate recruitment partners might take the view that the code is relatively meaningless as it is backed only by a fairly non-descript Law Society group and a couple of outfits with confusing alphabet soup-style names.
Indeed, as Legal Cheek has reported, Clifford Chance of London’s Canary Wharf and the world had already brought forward its training contract application deadline by a month to 30 June — and that was before the SRA had pulled the plug on its backing for the code.
Fears of trainee recruitment free-for-all as solicitor watchdog threatens to bin code of practice [Legal Cheek]