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Training contract numbers fall at UK’s leading corporate law firms

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Uh-oh

Training contract places among the leading corporate law firms have fallen by 5% as firms reveal their new 2017-18 recruitment targets.

The data, compiled as part of Legal Cheek’s 2018 Firms Most List, shows in a comparison with last years’ list that trainee places are down by over 100 from 2,147 to 2,036 across the largest 70 UK-based firms.

There are some notable individual fallers, and risers — as detailed in the tables below.

Fallers

Firm 2016-17 training contract numbers (to commence 2019) 2017-18 training contract numbers (to commence 2020)
DLA Piper 75 70
Herbert Smith Freehills 70 60
Eversheds Sutherland 55 50
DWF 50 40
Irwin Mitchell 50 45
Norton Rose Fulbright 50 45
Berwin Leighton Paisner 45 40
Simmons & Simmons 35 33
Gowling WLG 30 25
King & Wood Mallesons 30 0
Nabarro 30 0
Charles Russell Speechlys 24 23
Walker Morris 20 15
Shearman & Sterling 17 15
RPC 15 12
Skadden 12 10
Dechert 11 10
Howard Kennedy 10 8
Olswang 9 0

Looking at these firms, it’s hard to unite them all under a particular grouping. But there does seem to be a bit of wider weakness in the global megafirm bracket, which could suggest that these firms are focusing their graduate recruitment energies on other jurisdictions at a time of political uncertainty for the UK. It’s often argued, however, that Brexit is actually increasing work for law firms’ UK offices, so perhaps other factors are at play.

Something else to consider is the fact that King & Wood Mallesons Europe, Nabarro and Olswang no longer exist, having, in the case of the former, collapsed, and in the case of the latter pair been absorbed by CMS.

One further thing that is worth noting is that last year some of these firms prefaced their training contract target numbers with the phrase “up to”, so they may not have taken their full quota, and as a result some of these new figures could conceal a drop that is not as marked as it may at first seem.

Risers

Firm 2016-17 training contract numbers (to commence 2019) 2017-18 training contract numbers (to commence 2020)
CMS 60 65
Addleshaw Goddard 30 37
Baker McKenzie 30 33
Reed Smith 24 25
Fieldfisher 14 18
Ropes & Gray 6 7

Sadly this table is significantly shorter than the first one. Also, to put a further dampener on things, the rise in training contract numbers at CMS is actually a net fall when you consider that last year CMS, Nabarro and Olswang offered a combined total of 99 trainee places. However, Addleshaw Goddard, Baker McKenzie, Reed Smith, Fieldfisher and Ropes & Gray are all clearly doing something right.

Everyone else — and that is the vast majority of firms in the Most List — have kept training contract numbers the same as last year. Notably, this includes all five of the magic circle firms, among them the biggest training firm in the UK, Linklaters, which continues to offer a whopping 110 training contracts.

The magic circle have been among the biggest spenders on artificial intelligence and other lawtech software over the last couple of years, but the jury is still out on how this will affect junior lawyers. Some people in the market predict major drops in training contract numbers, while others think the new technology will actually increase the need for rookies.

Interestingly, the 5% fall in training contract numbers across the leading corporate law firms goes against the wider UK legal market trend that saw training contract numbers increase last year to their highest level since before the 2008 financial crisis. According to the Law Society’s annual statistical report published in June, total training contract numbers across all firms in England and Wales jumped from 5,457 to 5,728 in 2015-16.

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