Clifford Chance cuts UK training contract numbers drastically

Magic circle firm to recruit 20 fewer trainees


Magic circle law firm Clifford Chance has confirmed that it will cut UK training contract numbers by a hefty 20%.

As it currently stands the Canary Wharf-based outfit recruits “up to 100” trainee solicitors each year. However, in a decision which will take effect from September 2018, the firm has revealed that it will reduce this figure to “up to 80” — a drop of around 20 training contracts each year, or 20%.

The firm — which upped the pay packets of its newly qualified (NQ) lawyers to £85,000 earlier this summer — has seen a steady reduction in its trainee intake over the past six years. From a 2010 high of around 140 trainee lawyers, this figure dropped to just over 100 in 2014.

Stressing that the decision to reduce training contract numbers was made well before any post-Brexit referendum panic, a spokesperson for Clifford Chance told Legal Cheek:

In spring this year, the decision was made to reduce our trainee intake. Our trainee intake, like many other elements of our business, is constantly under review to ensure it is the right fit for the future needs of the organisation. We remain one of the largest employers of trainees in the UK market and will continue to offer excellent opportunities to the highest-calibre individuals, supporting them to become great lawyers.

But Clifford Chance isn’t alone. Since 2010 (when the UK was in the grips of an economic recession) all five magic circle players have gradually reduced their trainee lawyer intake.

Anglo-German firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer saw its UK training contract offering drop from around 95 in 2010, to just 80 this year. Meanwhile, Allen & Overy — which took on around 85 trainees this year — offered in excess of 120 training contracts pre-recession. Linklaters, which currently offers around 110 training contracts annually according to Legal Cheek’s Most List, used to provide almost 140 trainee lawyer positions in 2010. Finally, Slaughter and May, which offered almost 90 training contracts back in 2010, recruited less than 80 trainee lawyers last year.

Clifford Chance will be hoping that the reduction of its trainee intake will have a positive impact on future retention performances.

With the magic circle firm aiming for scores in the high nineties, Clifford Chance could only muster a spring 2016 result of 80%, with 11 NQs heading for the exit. Fast-forward to earlier this month, and the firm revealed that nine autumn NQs had left, equating to a retention score of just 82%. Crunching the numbers, this means that Clifford Chance has lost 20 NQs this year.

Now where have we heard that number?



So there’ll be extra long pool turd retrieval duties for the lucky few who get in now then.


Pretty sure the photocopiers do that automatically these days.


This isn’t surprising.

These firms have not grown substantially in London for a considerable amount of time. With the increased use of outsourced/admin centres (Manchester/Colchester/Warsaw/India/Belfast), there will be less work at a trainee level within the London offices of MC firms. It would be interesting to see what trainee utilisation rates are now compared to previous years anyway.

Given the vast difference in costs of recruiting, training and employing a paralegal outside of London vs. a trainee in London, plus the lack of a 2-4 year recruitment/employment commitment, to me it is more surprising these numbers have not been cut further.

There will always be a need for trainee programmes in these firms given their size and need for home grown talent, but having a smaller intake and supplementing it with other forms of recruitment when needed (paralegals/lateral hires) makes sense.


you have ideas about what is interesting that literally on one else in the world shares.


I don’t think it is – they still hold a pretty strong position despite their markets becoming far more competitive, both in terms of clients and retaining staff.

They are just adapting their talent strategies to make them more cost effective. Unless firms are growing massively in London (which is really limited to a handful of US firms), then this trend will probably continue across all types of firms. With the MC firms it is just more obvious where their trainee intakes are so large.


Find it quite dishonest that the firm tactically waited to announce this publicly until current TC offer holders from this cycle had made their decision. Clearly a sign that CC is going downhill and struggling to compete with its MC competitors in a highly saturated legal market. I wonder how many less TC acceptances CC would have got from this cycle had they announced this a month earlier (or even better when the decision had actually been made).


You do know Freshfields and Slaughters have an intake of 80 as well?


If anything I would expect their acceptances to have gone up if they announced it before. Less trainees in an intake means less competition, whether that’s for seat choices, secondments or NQ positions. I don’t think its a sign the CC are going downhill, and if it is then the same could be said for a large proportion of firms across London and UK wide who have also cut numbers in recent years.


Actually agree with this. Very thankful I eventually decided to accept a TC elsewhere. Would have felt utterly betrayed had I accepted this summer and then found this out now. How are you meant to have trust in your future employer if they are not honest about what is really going on?!


This type of holding back on information instead of disclosing it to employees is part of how organisations work. You are likely to find that your future employer, whoever they are, will hold back information from you until it is either leaked/found out and you will probably feel as equally “betrayed”.


It’s actually a good move, fewer painful layoffs for those who manage to get in.


“…a drop of around 20 training contracts each year, or 20%”

Thanks, Tom.


The elite City shop Nabarro has also cut the size of its intake from 25 to 20.


If a firm cuts its intake does that mean it is expecting to have less NQ spots?


More than likely.

Although it might be that they just don’t have enough seats/work for the 200 trainees they currently have.

They can always top up recruitment with lateral hires from other firms if they need more NQs than they have trainees. Firms with smaller intakes tend to do this, especially the US firms.


Rumour has it that it’s bracing for its merger with Addleshaw.

Addleshaw is apparently just “umming and ahhing” right now as it has so many other firms approaching.


Haha MEGA!

Perhaps it will end up being a Top 25/ MC/ US “troika merger” no doubt with the final brand:

Addleshaw Goddard Hunton Chance


Nah, I reckon it’ll be Addleshaws Hunton Al-Cliffordi.

Aysh’s mark as the great caliph is undeniable. A mere mortal would have long been given the boot and sent packing, yet he was retained.

Adam Deen

This is what happens when you prioritize Islamic Finance as your next big thing.

Doesn’t take a Goldman Sachs IB to spot how much of a shitshow that is.

Who the fuck litigates and sets byelaws over the Qur’an or Hadiths?


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