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Dentons revamps training contract in bid to make trainees more resilient

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Global law firm wants to create ‘more good days at work’

Dentons is to launch a “modernised” version of its training contract programme for its 2020 trainee intake featuring, among other things, a new module focusing on resilience, mental health and wellbeing.

The global behemoth says the new add-on will look to “create more good days at work” and equip rookies with practical ways to stay well and perform effectively in their role. This, according to Dentons, will ensure its future associates are able to learn the legal ropes in a setting which “optimises wellbeing”.

The shake-up will also see trainees complete an accredited module in legal project management, focusing on the importance of not only having solid technical skills but also strong commercial awareness, as well as a module on innovation, covering topics including artificial intelligence, machine learning and process automation.

Dentons, which scored an A for training in our Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2019–20, is also tweaking the supervisor role, with new training and guidelines highlighting the “importance of working together and nurturing talent”.

Nigel Webber, trainee partner at Dentons, said: “We are ambitious about making Dentons the best place for lawyers to develop into commercially and technically savvy business advisers who are also emotionally intelligent and inclusive.”

The 2020 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

He continued:

“We already have some of the best learning and development programmes in the market and our modernised training contract will help us to attract bright, diverse and motivated graduates and then provide them with an attractive, distinct and challenging training experience that will mark the first stage of their journey ‘from ‘lawyer to leader'”.

Dentons isn’t the first big City player to shake things up in terms of junior lawyer training. Last month Clifford Chance unveiled a new internship where future trainees spend up to two months in a business, getting to grips with broader commercial skills including business development, marketing and product design.

Elsewhere, Linklaters replaced its standard TC application process with a new online skills assessment that the magic circle player claims will cut submission time down from up to five hours to under 90 minutes.

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40 Comments

Jarine

Lower the billable hours target to 5 per day and lawyers will be more well.

Anonymous

And reduce pay by 50% too, presumably. You happy with that?

Alfius

“I bill 10 hours a day”

Weird flex.

Anonymous

11.52’s comment shows ignorance of how fixed and variable costs work.

Alfius

Elasticity of supply.

I too can parrot non sequiturs from a micro economics course. :V

Anonymous

Alfius has no clue about the point that was being made. Or, apparenty, the difference between accounting and economics.

Arbitration Slave

Fair enough for a nice, hard-working but not too brutal training contract – but you’d be mad as a box of frogs to stick around there on NQ. Hence their trainees tend to move to places like Simspon Thacher on qualification.

Ogre

Lmao oh yea? STB eh

Overpayed and Overworked Assoc

The focus on resilience only papers over the fundamental issue: the profession is too demanding on juniors.

Most Assocs/Trainees I know would happily take a lower salary for a more protected work/life balance (be it via greater flexibility re working away from the office, reduced expectations to be checking emails outside of office hours, or simply a fixed hours contract).

A firm in the mid tier (Taylor Wessing, Pinsets, Bird etc) could win the ‘war for talent’ if they took a brave step and prioritised staff wellbeing. Currently, the step down to the mid tier results in a hefty pay drop, without enough of a step up in life quality.

Anonymous

Makes an interesting recruitment drive. “Flakey? Lazy? Prefer Netflix to work? Apply here and earn much less.”

Overpayed and Overworked Assoc

Tedious response… It’s none of those things really.

Many lawyers want to work hard, use their brain, and liaise on major international transactions, but also want to regularly sleep enough to meet the medically-recommended minimum, have some time where they are not expected to be answering emails so that they can maintain some semblance of a personal life.

The first firm that gets that will lure a lot of talented lawyers to join their ranks.

Anonymous

Those would be “talented lawyers” happy to commute in from Zone 6. Forever.

anon

That is true and most people will agree but how do you do this with the unreasonable deadlines imposed by clients (e.g. banks/lenders), who in turn have their own clients setting the timetable (e.g. borrowers/private equity sponsors), who themselves have to deal with crazy deadlines imposed by counterparties (e.g. vendors).

I probably have a very pessimistic approach but in my view it’s impossible to win. There will always be firms/lawyers who are ready to pull the long hours at the expense of their mental and physical health, and these firms will be stealing all the work from firms as described in your comment.

Realist

People will have different views on your choice of:

– unreasonable, in “unreasonable deadlines imposed by clients”; and

– stealing, in “these firms will be stealing all the work”

Arguably, there is a correlation between (a) client expectations; (b) the fees they pay our firms; and (c) the salaries our firms pay us.

Is it simply question of picking your firm (and profession) carefully? I agree that transactional lawyers at top firms have dangerous lifestyles, and I had no interest in those practice areas for that reason. I won’t second-guess those who make different choices to me, though.

jim

Recruit more lawyers (at a lower salary), and put more lawyers on each deal.

Lara

That’s what the government training contract is for

Realist

Isn’t the much-vaunted ‘work-life’ balance available by simply moving to a firm with lower hours and thus far lower pay? Firms like Burges Salmon, Pinsent Masons, Osborne Clarke and Charles Russell Speechlys are – according to both friends who trained and qualified there, and Roll on Friday surveys – lovely places to work. But people are paid far less, and nowadays everyone seems to demand their right to ‘have it all’

To what extent (a) are people simply demanding to have their cake and eat it, Boris-stlye (i.e. high pay/prestige, *and* money); and (b) are new graduates simply lacking resilience, having been pampered and pandered by both their parents and universities alike*?

Previous generations were at Sandhurst in their teens, and commanding infantry platoons at war very shortly thereafter. Is what passes for ‘mental health issues’ nowadays simply a reflection that young people are increasingly weak and entitled? As long as law firms have enough associates of sufficiently high quality who are willing and able to work the hours, those who can’t can do something else. Stack shelves, maybe?** This doesn’t need to be a career for everyone. We’re over-recruited – some natural attrition is both inevitable and proper.

* See “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure”, a 2018 book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, which covered many of these issues, albeit from a US perspective.

** Slightly facetious, I concede, but the point remains: if you can’t stand the heat… As long as *enough people* can ‘stand the heat’.

Overpayed and Overworked Assoc

I think there are two separate points in your response: a) firms taking different approaches to work/life balance, and b) shifting generational expectations.

As for your first point, my experience of friends working for firms like Pinsents is that they are not offering enough of an improvement to justify the salary drop. This may seem to support your ‘cake and eat it’ notion, but Im not sure I would agree; I would rather a rubbish home life for much better pay because that choice will afford me to leave sooner, whereas a slightly less rubbish home life for much lower pay will just result in a sort of rubbish life for much longer. There is still an opportunity for a firm to enter as a disruptor and offer a much better home life for reasonable pay, and I see no reason why top firms couldn’t offer (not enforce) alternative contract solutions for better work/life balance (my understanding is that some firms are already starting to move this way).

As for your second point, it’s a bit of a boomer argument tbh… I can’t speak for previous generations, as I wasn’t there, but junior talent is aligned on its expectations, and firms will have to accept it to win/retain them. The evidence suggests that Millennials/Gen Z are valuing life over wage – as such, firms’ anachronistic efforts to throw money at junior lawyers and then calling them lazy when they say they’d rather some free time is a bit tiring… Senior lawyers didn’t rise up in a world of email, work phones etc, wage stagnation and property price inflation, so they just cannot understand the pressures that’s created. Times change, so firms need to catch up…

Realist

Thank you for your detailed and informative response, which I largely agree with. My only, perhaps cynical/hard-headed, caveat I would seek to add to your analysis is that arguably the very high salaries being paid in the top firms is a reflection of more junior lawyers’ increasing unwillingness to work long hours, but that as long as *enough* people are willing to do it, the market will continue to compensate them to do so. There was an interesting discussion of this on an economics blog earlier this year. [1]

This can also be seen in the large increase in some US firms’ salaries at the 3 PQE point, as it is at that point that (a) associates are client-ready and fairly self-sufficient. Managing a Professional Services Firm, by David Maister is a classic text which every junior lawyer should read. There’s even a copy in the otherwise-austere library of my US law firm. The point about people becoming more valuable is made in a discussion of that (in the context of consultants, but mutandis mutatis):

‘One manager said, “you can actually see them getting smarter”. By the time they have been on a half dozen projects, they are usually client-ready and fairly self-sufficient. After a few short years in a top consulting firm, their market value likely increases 20-30%.’ [2]

Of course, charge-out rates at 3 PQE for lawyers are far more than 20-30% greater than they are for NQs, so the logic applies even more so.

FOOTNOTES:

[1]

Comment 1:

‘Here is a logically coherent, self-consistent way of describing things: The percentage of women with advanced education has been steadily increasing. That liberalization, along with economic liberalization, has contributed to economic growth, especially for highly educated couples. Such couples are well enough off that, in many cases, both spouses don’t even have to work full time to generate sufficient income. Many affluent wives prioritize work-life balance over pure financial returns. With such a large fraction of highly educated workers prioritizing work-life balance, firms find it necessary to increase “overwork” premiums to attract workers to fill the most time-demanding roles. The tax wedge between taxed office work and untaxed home production (own childcare and enjoyment of spending time with one’s family) may also contribute to workers’ prioritization of work-life balance over pure financial compensation.’

Comment 2:

‘I’m a married man and in my social circle what I’ve generally observed is that most of the men put in long hours at work to avoid the drudgery of child care.

For all the talk about children being joys, and savoring the time you have them, the fact is that kids are boring. Their games have simple rules that kids can learn so there is no strategy. They are too uncoordinated to be good at sports so their sports are boring. With a few exceptions (My Little Pony, Avatar: The Last Airbender etc.) their TV shows are boring. They aren’t interesting conversationalists because they haven’t yet acquired any knowledge or wisdom. You love them fiercely, but the truth of the matter is that there are a million things you’d rather do than spend time with them.

I’m sure there are wonderful mothers and fathers who love every minute they spend playing Go Fish with their 3 year old. But I’m definitely a Hansonian when it comes to people who claim this. I think all this “spend quality time with your kids” is a big lie that society tells itself to promote values that it deems important. Most of the perfect moms and dads are Instagram phonies.

I do think women invest too much in having a beautiful home for status competitions, and this has two negative consequences. The first is that they spend too much time doing housework rather than accept an 80/20 rule for time spent cleaning (but note than an 80/20 rule means you dust less often and have fewer flowers, it doesn’t get the dishes done or the laundry washed). It also means that many wives tend to either argue with their husbands to do more housework, or resent their husbands for not doing enough.

Secondly, I’m also old enough to have grown up in the free range era. My parents and the parents of my friends didn’t spend much one on one time with us. And our parents were the last people we wanted to play games with. We wanted to be with our friends. I think free range parenting should return, but there is a seemingly unsolvable coordination problem.

Free range problem one: right now most “high quality” parents are helicopter parents. You can choose to be a free range parent, but the kids have freedom to travel and play are generally the offspring of “low quality” parents – grandmothers who have to take on the burden of raising children, parents who work two jobs and don’t have the time, or maybe they are just plain old irresponsible parents who don’t give a shit. Either way, their kids tend to be poorly socialized and aggressive, sort of like stray dogs. All the other kids are on their way to soccer practice and ballet. We tried free range parenting and pulled back because of this. My son had less freedom at 11 than he did at 8.

Second problem was cleverly identified by Megan McArdle. There tend to be “generally accepted accounting practices” of parenting. If you violate these and something goes wrong, you’re morally in the clear. But if not, you’re screwed. When we let our son free range he was once playing with a friend and the dad came to pick him up and we couldn’t find either of them. It took about a half hour, and calling the police, and the entire time I could imagine all our friends and acquaintances tisk-tisking “tragic, but still, they should have known not to let their kids run around like that.” Of course, it turned out they went to a third friend’s house and everyone was ok. It’s not rational to worry about this, but even though I’m a geek who is only weakly attached to human mores, I’m still embedded enough in the normal human being social epistemology that I’m never ever going through that experience again. Once was enough.

So basically, I think women are stuck with the kids and men will hide at their jobs. But I don’t pretend that this is some optimal solution that benefits women.’

Source: Marginal Revolution, blog of US economist Tyler Cowen. Article, “From the comments, on work hours and spousal distribution”, 29 April 2019, https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/04/from-the-comments-on-work-hours-and-spousal-distribution.html

[2]

Junior resources learn an enormous amount on the job. One manager said, “you can actually see them getting smarter”. By the time they have been on a half dozen projects, they are usually client-ready and fairly self-sufficient. After a few short years in a top consulting firm, their market value likely increases 20-30%.

Overpayed and Overworked Assoc

Appreciate the response.

Going to ignore the generational bashing, as the legal sector cannot change the parenting choices that have possibly resulted in an internationally universal set of demands from the two upcoming generations, but focus on what the UK legal sector can do to retain/win that talent.

I think that you are slightly missing the point. The industry doesn’t necessarily require a full overhaul, and US/Magic circle firms can continue to attract talent without having to change their business models at all. I completely agree that a sect are happy to be beasted for super salaries.

However, not everyone does want that, and salary is largely the ONLY tool being deployed by firms to attract lawyers at the moment.

My point is that, whether or not you approve, there are a large number of talented and hardworking lawyers who would consider a pay drop for more certain/reasonable hours, and there is a real opportunity for a firm to target that market, and have a highly-skilled workforce at a reasonable cost.

Given the profitability challenges that the UK mid-tier has been facing, there are really two solutions: increase revenue (by upping hours, which may not be possible if the client demand isn’t there), or by lowering costs. Employee salaries make up a huge chunk of a law firm’s costs, so it seems like an easy place to start.

I don’t think it’s as much of a revolutionary idea as many seem to think…

Realist

To Overpayed and Overworked Assoc, re. your Jan 24 2020 12:49pm: thank you for clarifying. I agree with you entirely and without caveats, then.

Anonymous

Can you two, like, get a room or something?

Anonymous

ok boomer

I'm a Boomer and I'm OK

This Boomer decides your bonus, wages and promotions. The cash go to those with the most income generated. And you can parrot out ‘ok boomer’ all you want, I’ll just remind myself how much more you have to pay for a house than I did and how your generation pay so much rent in my lovely portfolio. Boomer that, snowflake.

KSO

ok boomer

I'm a Boomer and I'm OK

How predictable. Very sweet. When’s your rent due, snowflake?

Anon

This boomer is an argument for Logan’s Run.

I'm a Boomer and I'm OK

On the plus side, your long commute offers plenty of time to watch the whole movie on your phone.

Anon

At least I know how to download a movie to my phone, boomer.

I'm a Boomer and I'm OK

So do we, so do we. But then we did all make a fortune back on the day on tech stocks too. And we used that money to buy lots of flats that are now worth 3 times what we paid for them and they provide a tidy income now the mortgages are all paid off. Still members of my generation didn’t die falling off cliffs while taking selfies for their instagram feed, so you lot do have a monopoly on some of the tech stuff.

Diane Abbott QC

You have hate in your heart for the younger generation. Why? Bones creaking lately? I feel sorry for you.

I'm a Boomer and I'm OK

No, Diane, it is just the ones so dull and witless they parrot out “OK Boomer” who let down their peers. Just wait, odds on they will just type “OK Boomer” again and again. Anyway, they were the ones putting in the hours this weekend making me money while we were at the Cotswolds pad.

Manchester LLB Student

Okay boomer

Turdland NQ

I can smell the boomer juice dripping from your decrepid armpits

Anonymous

Thankfully, you cannot afford to live in my postcode. How’s that long commute, snowflake? How is the saving for that deposit going?

Don’t fall for the right wing dogma above

I’m absolutely delighted that later generations have higher expectations for life than previous ones.

That’s called progress.

Anonymous

Quite frankly the training at this firm is third-rate, so how it got an A for training is a mystery.

Not an environment that promotes thinking a new thought or for yourself, or diverging from the precedent.

Terrible work environment and poor management.

Look elsewhere guys, the magic is not here.

anon 5

did their rejection really hurt you that badly?

anon 4

“Previous generations were at Sandhurst in their teens, and commanding infantry platoons at war very shortly thereafter.”

anon 5

Did their rejection really hurt that bad?

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