London law firms to cut back on EU trainees following Brexit

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By Alex Aldridge on

As many as 20% of City firms’ trainees are non-British EU citizens — something which may be about to change


City of London law firms’ approach to hiring trainee solicitors is set to be seriously impacted by Brexit, as European Union graduates from outside the UK face being frozen out of the job market.

With non-British EU citizens making up between 10-20% of corporate firms’ London trainee intake, a change in their eligibility to work in this country has been pinpointed as a priority issue for graduate recruitment teams as they deal with the fall out from Thursday’s referendum.

Of particular concern is that blocks on EU students will leave London’s top legal outfits short of people with language skills.

Those involved in recruiting trainees at the major firms are reluctant to go on the record discussing the impact of Brexit on wannabe City lawyers, but privately they admit that the EU students problem is currently the major concern to have arisen.

One graduate recruiter who has worked for a host of leading law firms told Legal Cheek:

The recruitment of EU students runs high among City firms. This is partly because the route to qualification in England and Wales is much shorter than in many European countries, so there are many who study here. The big plus is their language skills. Now suddenly we may not have these people.

It is thought that EU students who already have training contracts will be fine, but those applying ahead of the 31 July recruitment deadline widely followed by London firms could well be affected. Another legal graduate recruiter told us:

With law firms recruiting two years in advance, for 2018, which is of course around the time Britain is set to leave the EU, candidates’ eligibility to work will be factor from now on in.

This news may please British law graduates without training contracts like Karim Khassal, who told Boris Johnson and the other panellists at last week’s Wembley Brexit debate that he felt like he was “at the back of the queue for entry-level jobs”.

However, with the economy likely to take a hit due to Thursday’s decision to leave the EU, it may be that any increased opportunities for UK law graduates are wiped out by recession hit firms cutting training contract numbers.

This was the case after the 2008 crash as law firms scaled back training contract numbers by around a quarter.

Still, with Brexit likely to lead to a flurry of work in the short to medium term as a whole new legal regime is created, it remains too early to predict what will happen to law student and junior lawyer hiring.

What looks likely, though, is that that the fledgling MoneyLaw trend — which has seen a handful of US law firms up their London trainee salaries to an eye-watering £124,000 over the last few weeks — could be stopped in its tracks as firms exercise caution while the economic and political chaos of Brexit plays out.