Freshfields and Herbert Smith Freehills reveal spring retention scores

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74% and 92%

Global duo Freshfields and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) have revealed contrasting spring retention performances.

First up, Freshfields. From a hefty March-qualifying cohort of 42, the magic circle titan — which dishes out around 80 training contracts each year — confirmed it made 32 offers. Thirty-one eventually accepted, handing the firm a spring score of 74%.

Freshfields’ trainee development partner, Farah Ispahani, said:

“As ever, our retention rates vary across each intake as we balance a number of different factors when determining the offers that we make to individuals.”

Today’s news marks a modest improvement on the firm’s uncharacteristically low autumn 2017 result. On that occasion Freshfields retained just 27 of its 41 final seat trainees or 66%. The Anglo-German giant posted a result of 84% (31 out of 37) in spring 2017 and 95% (40 out of 42) in autumn 2016.

The 2018 Firms Most List

Meanwhile, HSF has confirmed an impressive 92% score. From a 37-strong intake, HSF revealed 35 rookies applied for full-time positions, with 34 eventually receiving offers. All accepted. Commenting on the strong score, HSF’s training principal, James Baily, said:

“This has been a fantastic qualification round for us, with a very strong retention rate reflecting both the quality of our trainees and the firm’s commitment to developing home-grown talent. As with our last round, a number of our London trainees have qualified into offices overseas which is also good to see because it shows the extent of international opportunities at the firm.”

HSF, which offers around 60 training contracts annually, is traditionally a solid retention performer. Last year it posted results of 80% (28 out of 35) and 77% (27 out of 35).

But what can the fresh faced associates at both outfits expect to receive in terms of remuneration? Well, Legal Cheek’s Firms Most List 2018 shows newly qualified (NQ) lawyers at Freshfileds will receive a salary of £85,000, while their HSF counterparts will start on £82,000.

Freshfields is now the fourth magic circle player to reveal its spring score.

Last month, Allen & Overy confirmed 32 of its 40 NQs were staying put, handing the firm a spring retention score of 80%. Meanwhile, Clifford Chance announced an impressive 92% spring result in mid-January, keeping 44 out of 48 newbies, while fellow magic circle player Slaughter and May revealed a 95% result (35 out of 37).

Other firms to unveil their spring results include White & Case (81%), Macfarlanes (100%), Trowers & Hamlins (86%) and Mayer Brown (100%).

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Another poor showing from Freshfields. Very unusual for a magic circle firm.

Other MC Trainee

Speaking neutrally here, I think the individual rates should be taken pretty lightly. The offer rate was 76% – if it were only 4% higher at 80% then Legal Cheek would have called it ‘solid’, so some perspective is required. Also to those deciding between firms, bear in mind that there may be as many as 6-8 retention rounds before you qualify, so the situation is likely to be very very different. Freshfields has a really good record of retention traditionally and this is unlikely to change drastically.

Freshfields works on exceptional matters for very high-profile clients (only Slaughters and the most prestigious of the US firms rival them in this respect) and, for all the comments about HR, even the most negative would admit that its training and TC system are best in class. Those are far more significant factors than a couple of below-far retention rounds which reflect short-term factors and a particular intake. It would be farcical to choose inferior firms to train with due to one retention round being a few percentage points higher.




Wow, are you sure you’re not a FBD trainee? Because you’re riding that D pretty damn hard.

The hilarious thing is anyone who trains at a respectable boutique that works across from the MC firms will become partner in 6-8 years and be able to lateral into any MC firm (well, maybe not Slaughters, but as always they’re the exception to the UK rule). By that time you’ll be lucky to move up to Senior Associate or whatever special snowflake name they’re giving the over qualified associates these days.


Crap prospects. Crap partners. And to make matters work we trainee development ain’t ‘ Golden’.


Freshfields trainee development are bullies. A friend of mine in the intake below had to reschedule a PSC course. A pretty minor thing. She’d been doing 70+ hours for the past few weeks and a transaction was closing so she could no longer attend.

Someone in the trainee development team gave her a completely unnecessary humiliating dressing down in front of four other trainees. If that wasn’t enough, she then started harassing her and repeatedly calling and emailing her. My friend was pretty exhausted and cried afterwards.

In my opinion, the problem with the trainee development team starts at the top. If anyone senior at Freshfields cared, they would do something about it.


It starts with the poor trainee development team. In particular, they head of trainee development at Freshfields, is very disliked. That has knock on consequences as many trainees don’t want to stay.


Very true. Poor prospects. I would avoid. I wish I’d taken my Slaughters offer.


What people don’t realise with retention rates is that they can mask the fact that many people end up leaving within months of qualifying anyway. Spectacular retention is meaningless if you’re then pushed out faster than elsewhere. Case in point here.


How do they push you out if you don’t mind me asking?


Probably the same way any major London firm does: if you’re junior, beast you with unreasonable amounts of work until you inevitably burn out or cock up. Either way, they gain an excuse for you to get the PFO (usually in a recommendation to a client for in-house or to an affiliated boutique/spin off). If you’re a more senior associate, probably reduce the amount of work going your way so you can’t meet billable targets and get in trouble with supervisors or just never progress in your career. You either leave to pursue advancement elsewhere or get pigeonholed.

Another common tactic is to boost retention figures by offering NQs a one-year full time contract than not renew it. Don’t know if FBD does that, but I know of several firms that do.

Long story short, there’s many ways a firm can push you out. They’re all really good at it. Joys of private practice life!


The firm doesn’t give a damn about its trainees – both partners and associates. Pretty toxic environment. I’m not surprised so many in that intake and the intake before left.


I qualified at FBD this month – March intake. The process was rubbish. Trainee development repeatedly lied about qualification prospects and gave no support to trainees that weren’t kept on, despite promising to do so. I’ve went to a US firm instead.


Pros and Cons:

– Worst hours in the MC.
– Poor trainee development team.
– Some unpleasant partners.
– Bad qualification prospects.
– Good food and biscuits.


I agree with this. Most Freshies trainees don’t trust the trainee development team given the debacle that they’ve caused over the last three qualification rounds.

The team, with one exception, consists of of puffed-up, bitter, bullying HR bots.

Also they fired the sushi chef in December.


Can you please elaborate on how the firm is going through a rocky patch, and how they treat junior staff poorly? Just trying to decide between firms and transparency like this is really valuable.


Relentless pursuit of profit above all else – actually makes it a miserable experience for juniors who don’t have that much control over things. Slash and burn mentality.


If the partners can’t show enough loyalty to resist the K&E dollar why should the NQs? Given the choice between being treated like **** for sub-ton and being treated slightly less like **** by pretty much the same people for £140k, who would stay?


I thought for a moment you had forgotten to tell us about the wedge, what the NQs would be paid at these top firms; about the dolla, the BigMoneyLaw salary. Thankfully I just needed to read a bit further.


It’s utterly tiresome, isn’t it?


£192 for your conference Alex?! Are you serious? Have your creditors caught up with you?


MC partners and MC NQs are all salivating after US elite City shops. So envious. So desperately envious.


Weinstein overstepped the mark at times, but a lot of the time he was just leveraging his position. We all do it to some extent. I think the man deserves a second chance.


Goooooo Herbies


Freshfields going down the pan lol


This is the best retention rate article comments section I’ve read.


I agree with the comments above. The firm is obviously going through a rocky patch. However, that’s not helped by treating junior staff very poorly (everyone from trainees, paralegals and associates).

Hopefully, an FBD partner will read this: the trainee development team are abysmal. It’s a major reason why FBD trainees are unhappy. The quicker they clear the dead wood the better.


The Freshfields trainee development team were appalling bitchy liars when I trained there 2 years ago (have since left) and until the head honcho leaves (unlikely as the partners seem to worship her?) nothing will change in the trainee experience.


I agree completely. The ‘head honcho’ I’d trainee development at FBD just bullies trainees. Horrid.


Any honest advice for someone who will be at Freshies soon?

Train and leave?
Be tactical with seats?
Run before it’s too late?

Former FBD trainee

Train and leave? – diminishing options as elite US shops now have their own trainee intake so you’re left with mid-sized shops to lateral into upon qualification. To leave for a decent role, you need an internal offer, which, given the latest retention rates, is unlikely. Training is mixed – mostly associates showing you precedents and not much partner involvement in training. You’re really viewed as a short term resource so there’s not much consistency in the quality of your briefing and feedback.

Be tactical with seats? – if the current Trainee Development team are still there when you start your seats, you’ll be bullied into seats you don’t want to make their job easier. They are not interested in your career and you will be forced to take seats you don’t want and given false promises about future options with seats. I think this is quite difficult to implement at Freshfields, given that there is such a large cohort to manage with the various seats. A few trainee pull it off, but most have to accept that seat selection is largely randomised and be given patronising speeches about how ‘entitled’ you are if you refuse to accept what you’re given, despite the recruitment advertising the TC as a ‘bespoke’ training contract. *cough*

Run before it’s too late? – if you have an offer at one of the other MC/elite US shops, definitely. Otherwise, it’s a difficult judgement call as you do benefit from the gravitas of the FBD brand, and the high profile of your deal sheet by the time you’ve completed the TC. This is if you manage to avoid the magnificent bullying machine that is the Trainee Development team. If there’s comparable quality work in the area of interest to you at another firm, e.g. Intellectual Property at one of the specialist firms, go for that.


So… If upon qualification I don’t get an internal offer, realistically what options are available?

A lot of people say – “Once you work at an MC firm the world is your oyster.”
But if you don’t get the seat you want or get to qualify where you want, you’re pretty screwed – right?
You go work for a mid sized shop or hope you fall into the hands of a recruiter who likes you.
Also, what’s the likelihood of qualifying into a specialist seat e.g. IP? Tax? Employment?

I just don’t see how they can think of one as a short term resource when they should be thinking this could be a future partner at the firm.

Are you allowed to refuse to take a seat or do they at least give you something out of your options?

I wish I could get your details and actually speak with you off this website!


You’re required to submit a high number of choices the more junior you are as a trainee and you will be ‘given’ one of the six/seven ‘options’ you’ve provided to TD so that you are allocated a seat of your choice. A lot of people don’t get seats of their choice. The only positive about the three month seats is that you have the choice of leaving a department you don’t like after three months – it doesn’t actually give you active flexibility to choose your seats as you go.

MC firms get high profile mandates so you’ll have a nice looking CV by the end of your training, but the depth of your involvement is variable, so if you like a lot of responsibility, choose a US firm/mid sized firm.

Specialist seats are sought after so there’s usually only one per department per intake.

The partners and associates are battle hardened lawyers who’ve sacrificed a lot to progress to where they are – the last thing they’re interested in is your development. They just need someone to do the grunt work so as long as your baseline expectation is that you’ll be doing due diligence and document reviews, then you won’t be disappointed. Anything more is a bonus. They know that a large number of people leave at PGY 2 and PGY 5, so why would they bother training you up? They’re just interested in delegating the grunt work down so they can leverage their time better. If you’re one of the golden ones they deem to be a future partner, then you’ll be coached. The majority are just there to grind out a few matters so they can lateral or go in house.

FBD Associate

I’m really surprised about these comments about the head of TD at Freshfields. She used to be the work allocation manager for my department and she was fantastic – she had the respect and trust of partners and associates alike. Yes, if she needed to shaft you (as you were best placed for a shafting) she’d shaft you, but with the promise that she’d remember it and look out for you later. She always did, which, frankly, never happened before she did that role (and hasn’t since). Appreciate that she is now in a different position, and I haven’t been a trainee for a while (so obviously can’t speak from direct experience), but I would have thought the skills needed to be good at both roles are pretty transferable, and I am a supervisor and have dealt with her a number of times in that capacity, and my view hasn’t changed one bit. So I would just caution against blaming one person for the failings of a much wider system.


^ these are the sycophantic morons who supervise you at FBD. Enough said.


Given that you’ve not had to deal with her having any power over your career really at any stage, I’d sit this one out mate. She leads a poorly run and poorly managed team who are clearly terrified of her – there is no form of discussion; its her way or no way.


I’m pleased this is being discussed openly! The comments section is brilliant.

I can’t agree more with these comments. The whole training system at FBD is messed up and accounts for why so many trainees leave on qualification. Trainee development really are a bunch of bitchy, bullying, incompetent fools.


This thread is really worrying!!!

As someone who is tied into a training contract starting in August what is the best thing to do to make the best of the TC? Is it really as bad as some of these comments are making out?

Does it look like FBD will do anything about these allegations?


I read some of this responses and I am like wow! You guys know a lot of TC. If you feel free to discuss about TC in UK give me a line at

Haggard FBD Trainee

It is both pleasing and disheartening that so many other Trainee’s experience with Trainee Dev has been the same. For people who have a lot of power over your career (deciding where you sit, secondment, etc.) they give surprisingly few shits about the job and the impact it has on the individual. The entire culture of the team is negative, but, as mentioned by someone above, the team head is well liked by key partners and therefore completely bullet proof. As a general rule, the partners are not particularly interested in the development of their trainees, and so its impossible to challenge trainee development on anything. The reasons for that have been discussed above, and I wholeheartedly agree with them.

The appraisal system at FBD is a joke – there is no moderation, no appeals process and its a common occurrence for negative feedback to only be brought up in the appraisal itself – rather than at any point in your seat prior. Kicking up a fuss about this is both a waste of energy and bad for your career. Again, TD handle this process, so if you’re not happy with your arbitrarily awarded score (which depends on: (a) partners mood; (b) the position of Saturn relative to Uranus; (c) whether the partner’s wife has threatened divorce that morning; and (d) whether 65 cocked up their breakfast order) you are shit out of luck. If you happen to be a partner’s chosen one, you’re sorted and get the unofficial nod that you’ll be fine for both secondment qualification. If you didn’t happen to have enough lube with you on the day to make that particular personal journey, best of luck to you. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, trainees are very well rewarded for sleeping with their supervisors. If you know, you know.

The complaints are legitimate – nothing is going to change, of course, but its good to get it aired out a bit. Training is haphazard at best – a series of (mostly) unhelpful presentations given by associates who need to get enough K time on their billables to get bonus and the occasional chance to actually discuss stuff with an associate isn’t good enough for the work trainees are expected to put in. No one joins FBD for work/life balance but FBD categorically do not hold up their end of the bargain. Sad.

There’s a lot more worth mentioning about but this meeting has run over and I’m cutting into my daily 30 minutes whinging about how much more money I’d be earning if I’d accepted that hypothetical TC at Kirkland.

FBD Trainee

I had a really bad experience of being pushed into a seat I didn’t want to do because TD were trying to make their life easier. They get you when you’re at a low point and when you feel worthless so you just go along with it. I felt really disappointed in myself that I let them dictate my career.


Did they bad touch you?

Aug 18 qualifier

Full disclosure: My current plan is to qualify, but I see little reason not to jump ship for a US firm in a couple of years.

If you do not have a comparable offer, stick with Freshfields. Great name, good work, and generally okay people. Mutual complaining with your intake helps you get through the shit.

If you have a comparable offer, take that and run. Morale is currently rock bottom due to the twin factors of (i) a truly abysmal trainee development team; and (ii) a firm management hell bent on the pursuit of profit above everything else.

I hope that it gets better as an associate since most of the crap seems trainee focused: removing PAs for trainees, the new expenses policy, actively encouraging Hunger Games re secondments/qualification, complete lack of regard for trainees’ development etc. But I look on RoF, see that it’s once again the worst performing of the Magic Circle on the firm of the year survey (for about 3 or so years now), and think I will jump ship sooner than expected…


As an FBD associate it is genuinely sad to see the firm I trained in disappear before my eyes. As others have said, current management are dead set on the pursuit of profit above all else. Hence lots of short sighted attempts to screw over trainees (e.g. demolition of secondment options; getting rid of PAs; hunger games qualification process) and everyone else (making everyone who isn’t a fee earner redundant – no more experienced PAs, no more KM/BD staff of any value; new bonus targets; getting rid of old Pqe system so no one gets senior until way after other firms; new expenses policy… the list goes on). Am quite certain that more fun await – e.g. expect open plan seating in the new office (apart from the partners).

If this was how the firms other MC firms behaved, that would be one thing. However, they somehow appear to be turning decent PEP without shafting their workforce.

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