Freshfields sends Manchester paralegals on mini-secondments to London, Dubai and Germany

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By Alex Aldridge on

Magic circler extends trainee perk to northern rookies

Anglo-German giant Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has launched a series of informal mini-secondments for its Manchester paralegals as it bids to strengthen ties between the support centre and the rest of its offices.

The rookies, many of whom are young and mobile, have already been hitting the road, with several spending time in the Freshfields’ London mothership during June, where they assisted in the corporate team. Others have been temporarily stationed in Dubai working on a big middle East deal, while further individuals have been sent to Hamburg and Frankfurt.

Legal Cheek understands that the firm is looking into taking steps to formalise the programme as more Manchester paralegals prepare for autumn assignments.

Olivia Balson, head of Freshfields’ Manchester legal services centre, said:

The opportunity for our legal services assistants in Manchester to visit the firm’s international offices not only helps with integrating them into the fee-earner way of working but also provides a fantastic opportunity for career development.

While integration is doubtless a priority for the magic circle giant, the secondments could also be interpreted as a signal of tightening demand in the Manchester legal job market. The North West has a smaller pool of young legal talent than in London, and there has been talk about firms operating support centres in the region becoming increasingly focused on limiting employee attrition. Extending a perk usually reserved for trainees seems like a good way to do this. The obvious next step would be to offer training contracts, but Freshfields says it has no plans to do so at present. However, it does acknowledge that its Manchester paralegals could go on to train as solicitors after completing their paralegal apprenticeship scheme.

Another way of looking at the secondments is that they’re an implicit acknowledgement of the usefulness of sometimes having teams in the same physical place. This chimes to a certain extent with an internal email seen by Legal Cheek in which Freshfields’ London trainees complained about lack of PA support in the wake of the firm’s expansion in Manchester.

The news comes as Freshfields makes permanent its paralegal apprenticeship deal with the University of Law that has seen it take on two apprentices last year and two this year. The Manchester-based programme remains tiny relative to Freshfields’ London training contract scheme, which hires 80 graduates each year. However, a disappointing recent trainee retention rate of 66% has led some to fear that the firm could be set to rely on the Manchester support office more in future. Other sources, however, have suggested that there is no link and the retention rate was simply a blip related to a number of factors including Brexit uncertainty hitting the City.

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