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Clifford Chance future trainee uproar as firm cancels funding for Professional Skills Course

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Exclusive: Policy switch has left students struggling to make ends meet

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Future Clifford Chance lawyers have been left fuming after the magic circle outfit revealed it won’t be paying them to attend a compulsory week-long course prior to commencing their training contracts.

The Canary Wharf-based corporate giant informed its 2016 trainee intake last week that it would not be offering compensation for their time spent on the Professional Skills Course (PSC), leaving them around £800 out of pocket.

The course, that takes places after students have finished the Legal Practice Course (LPC), must be completed before trainees can commence their training contracts.

Clifford Chance covers LPC fees and pays its future lawyers a maintenance grant of of £8,000 for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and £7,000 for the LPC. And until now it has paid a financial contribution to cover students during the PSC. Legal Cheek understands that rival firms are continuing to cough up this cash.

With trainees at the magic circle outfit starting on a hefty £42,000, rising to £47,300 in their second year, many Legal Cheek readers may be reaching for the world’s smallest violin right now.

But hear the future CC trainees out. They had budgeted for their maintenance grant to take them from early July this year right through to the end of February 2016 — the duration of the accelerated LPC — when they are due to commence their training contracts.

Told of the policy change last week by the firm’s student representatives, the members of Clifford Chance’s February intake who don’t have alternative means of financial support have now been left scrambling to cover next month’s rent.

According to Legal Cheek spies, one future trainee, having raised the issue with the magic circle firm’s HR department, was allegedly told bluntly to “get a loan”.

With future Clifford Chance trainees strictly forbidden from taking part-time work, and loans not easy to come by for all students at short notice, perhaps the anger is justified.

With concerns of an impending trainee revolt, the magic circle outfit has offered those students who are due to start in early 2016 a small advance on their substantial salary. However that’s simply not enough, according to one London-based law student we spoke to, who told us that the firm has offered a figure of around £250 — a long way short of a month’s rent in the capital.

Asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals from the firm’s bosses, the lawyer-to-be accepted that he was in a privileged position having bagged one of around 100 training contracts the firm offers each year. Despite this, he did have wider concerns regarding Clifford Chance’s decision and impact it will have on access to the profession. He explained:

I think it’s pretty hypocritical of the firm though to make such a big deal of the efforts they make to expand accessibility to the profession, and to then make life so difficult for those of us who can’t turn to mummy and daddy to pick up the bill.

When contacted by Legal Cheek, Clifford Chance acknowledged the future trainees’ complaints but declined to address them specifically, with a spokeswoman issuing this statement:

Clifford Chance offers generous support to our future trainees whilst they are in training, before they join the firm.