National firm DWF hangs onto 74% of its qualifying trainees

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By Thomas Connelly on

12 trainees out of 47 head for the exit at Walkie Talkie-based firm


DWF has revealed an autumn retention figure of 74%, with 35 out of a training cohort of 47 opting to remain at the firm.

The 13-office firm — that offers around 50 training contracts annually — revealed the majority of this year’s new associates will be based in the outfit’s London and Manchester offices.

The remaining newly qualified (NQ) lawyers will be spread across DWF’s Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow outposts. Newly qualified lawyer pay varies across the firm’s offices between £36,000 in Scotland and £59,000 in London.

The national giant — that was the first law firm to take up residency in Britain’s “ugliest” building, the Walkie Talkie (pictured above) — revealed that 20 of its NQs will be based in corporate and banking. Six are heading to the firm’s real estate team; litigation will receive five new associates and the remaining four will begin life as lawyers in DWF’s insurance team.

DWF has, over the longer term, traditionally posted strong autumn figures, retaining all of its trainees on four occasions since 2002.

However, with the acquisition of Cobbetts in 2013 and mergers with, among others, Scottish practice Biggart Baillie and Birmingham outfit Buller Jefferies, trainee numbers have swollen to unprecedented figures.

This has had a negative impact on DWF’s retention figures in recent years, with around 20% of its legal talent heading for the exit each year since 2012. This autumn’s 74% rate is a slight drop on that average, and is down seven percentage points on last year’s figure of 81%.

DWF’s emerging talent manager Kate Hasluck expressed disappointment at the result, which she put down to some unusual circumstances involving individual trainees. She explained:

Our aim is always to retain as many qualifying trainees as possible because we have invested so much in them so this figure is disappointing and doesn’t reflect our commitment to trainees, however unfortunately in this instance we had a number of trainees who had their heart set on a particular practice area and we didn’t have sufficient roles to cater for demand, or trainees couldn’t stay with us due to personal reasons including relocation to another part of the UK where we don’t have an office. Our retention rates are normally very high as we look to give our trainees good exposure to clients and involve them in quality client matters and anonymous feedback from our trainee population supports this.

It is fairly common for law firms that have grown rapidly to post lower retention rates as they consolidate their businesses.

Earlier this month, international firm Clyde & Co — which like DWF has undergone a series of relatively recent mergers and now takes on 50 trainees a year — announced a drop in its retention rate from 98% last year, to 76% for the autumn 2015 period. But Clyde’s recent retention rate average remains 90% after a succession of strong results over the last few years. That is the sort of level DWF will be aiming for over the years ahead.