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An open letter to law firms considering deferring training contracts

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They should look to the past before making decisions on trainees’ futures, writes an anonymous trainee solicitor-to-be

In light of the current pandemic, and reduced workloads, many law firms are considering deferring training contract start dates.

Whilst this is an unprecedented situation; this is not an unprecedented consideration. Law firms have had to consider deferring trainees during the financial crisis and mergers.

This is an open letter to these firms on what they can learn from the financial crash, mergers and other players within the legal world, during this difficult time.

The 2008 financial crisis

In 2008, a number of law firms offered their incoming trainees cash incentives to defer their training contracts for a year. It has been reported that some firms paid future joiners up to £10,000. This resulted in graduate recruitment further down the line effectively being frozen. Whilst this was beneficial at the time, due to the slower market, it subsequently resulted in firms being top heavy. Making them cost inefficient, due to their experience-based billing structure. For firms to mitigate this, they should carefully consider deferring training contracts this time around.

Law firms should also look at their retrospective conduct. There is a stark contrast between how firms treated their future joiners just over a decade ago, to now. Previously firms would reimburse trainees for Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) fees, if the qualifications were gained prior to accepting the training contract.

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It is now unclear if firms who have, or are considering, deferring training contracts will offer future trainees a grant during this period. This puts future joiners in a precarious position. These individuals may have already relied upon their training contract start dates (i.e. entering into long tenancies) and need to be supported during this period. It is not enough for partners to email links to employee assistance programmes, when these individuals are at risk of falling below the poverty line.

Mergers

To minimise this, law firms should provide sufficient grants to future joiners if their training contract is going to be deferred. The tactic of providing sufficient grants for deferrals was not only utilised during the crash, but also during the merger of Nabarro, Olswang and CMS. CMS offered £10,000 to future joiners to defer, voluntarily. Law firms should not exploit the bargaining power they have by not offering future joiners a grant to defer, instead they should consider reimbursing them for this time.

Elsewhere in the legal industry

The legal sector is traditionally risk averse. Cultivating innovation in this industry is difficult, never mind in the middle of a global pandemic. This period presents an unprecedented opportunity for development. If law firms are considering deferring trainees, they should consider utilising this time to educate their next generation of joiners on embracing disruptive legal services and technology.

The best response to this challenge requires innovative and collaborative thinking. We have witnessed the Solicitors Regulation Authority achieve this through the relaxation of LPC exam rules in response to the lockdown — it is now time for law firms to do the same.

Worried rookie is a future trainee solicitor.

59 Comments

Dominic

SPB vac scheme update anyone ?

Topkek

Cummings?

Stop Overthinking

I understand students’ concerns on having their training contracts deferred, but this is a rather myopic outlook.

If trainees DO want to get retained by their firm post-TC, they should wish that their training contracts get deferred so later down the line when the economy is in a better state, there is a higher chance that they will get retained. Besides, what is the point of starting your M&A seat at the beginning of your career when there’s basically very little work for you? What is a 5 months deferral even, when you might not even be retained post-TC?

Think long-term, not short-term, ‘worried rookie’.

Anon

People are right to have concerns given they may have financially relied on or planned for starting their training contracts at a specific time. Now is hardly a good time to have to suddenly try to get a job to carry you through given the economic situation

Stop Overthinking

I understand that, but would you rather not have a job for five months as opposed to not having a job after your TC? Which would you prefer?

Anon

I prefer you back off pal before you get a slap

Anon

I’d probably be most concerned with whether I could afford to eat and pay rent in the next five months than what might happen in several years’ time, actually.

Stop being patronising

I’d prefer to have a steady income for the next two years and time to save money and figure it out rather than be 5 months out of work and not able to make rent. But maybe that’s just me.

Stating Facts

To be honest, you kind of get a £10K grant from firms, which if you are being sensible and not staying at a lavish £3k/month flat, you should be able to cover your 5 months’ rent with that sort of money in Central London.

Maybe spend less money on booze?

Stop being patronising

What is a point of starting a law career if you cannot drink Brut every day?

US Firm 1PQE

Understand your concerns but you look at the bigger picture. What is the point of being a trainee when there is little work? You will be miserable sitting in office doing nothing and learning nothing (even worse if WFH continues and you will be doing nothing sitting at home). Because of this you will have less chances of being retained in the law area that you like and develop professionally / become a better lawyer.

This is short-term thinking.

Join the Real World

For most people the most important thing about a job is to afford food and have a roof over your head. Learning and professional development is a privilege but ultimately is not as secure as a salary for keeping someone out of poverty, either long- or short-term (partly because poverty is a cycle – once you’re in its harder to get out and long-term success becomes less likely).
You might have a better chance of retention in over two years, but in the meantime you’re faced with being tied into expensive city/commuter tenancy agreements, jobless, with a looming recession making it difficult to find temporary work.

Also, not directly related to this comment, but the idea that £10k in return for 6-12 month deferral is a good deal is really out of touch. That’s only roughly half full time minimum wage for a year. And see above about difficulties of getting out of expensive tenancy agreements and getting another job in the interim.

This might be OK if you can live with family for free, but there are a host of reasons why that might not be possible. E.g. most TC providers insist you do the LPC in the city that you’re training in. If you don’t have family there, you’ll already be stuck with a tenancy agreement because you had to live there to study. The ability to live with family past age 18/after leaving school is, again, a privilege, not an assumption which should be used as the basis for firm policy.

Gosh

“For most people the most important thing about a job is to afford food and have a roof over your head…”

Well, you won’t have that in two years’ time when you can’t get retained. Then, your worry will shift to finding income for 1/2 years post-TC, all because you couldn’t make the sensible and long-term decision of having your TC deferred for just a few months.

And, I don’t know which expensive room/flat you’re renting in London, but my friends and I stay in a £1.3K/month flat in CENTRAL LONDON, and the £10K grant should definitely suffice for 6 months. If you are staying in a flat that is any more expensive as a student, you are either 1) stupid, or 2) financially privileged, so the extra 5 months deferral should not even be financially burdensome for you.

David

Flat share in Aldgate East?

jobless> lool

Supermarkets hire in like 3 hours atm. Grow up.

Chicken who came home to roost

This is a textbook lesson in anxious people who have counted their chickens before they have hatched. So many have listed on their linkedin/ elsewhere themselves as “future trainee solicitor” or “future vacation schemer” these are nonsensical non-logical statements: how can you be a future anything until you actually are one? These agreements are conditional. So many want to brag about these achievements but there is no honour in bragging about something that hasn’t come to fruition. There is no leverage in being a “future [x]” especially when taking on the role is conditional on (1) actually completing the lpc (we all know its more likely than not but every year there seems to be a slaughters “future trainee” who fails a module) and (2) the firm actually taking you on. Instead of stressing about something beyond your control, set into motion an action plan. Hit the pavement and look for alternatives. A great deal of people will be deferred and a great many more are not going to have offers as firms fail in the coming months.

Anon

The worst one of these is the “future open day attendee” I recently saw on LinkedIn. True story.

Anon.

Word.

The future is known only unto God.

Banking the future with a line on LinkedIn is unfortunate.

tips@legalcheek.com

Also people who attended that online open day and list it in their work experiences. Linkedin shows them as “people who have worked in your firm” now, which is very confusing.

Anon

Graduate recruitment teams harp on about how open days should be included on the work experience sections of TC applications, so it’s not too surprising that applicants apply this advice to LinkedIn too.

tips@legalcheek.com

Work applications – definitely, shows commercial awareness / interest in the legal market (and this particular type of firms – City / High street etc.) But why Linkedin experience section? It is for real work experiences. After my firm launched the
InsideSherpa online experience, every law student from New York to Vladivostok is shown as “colleague”.

Anonymous

Actually sometimes saying you’re a “future” trainee or vac schemer can be quite beneficial in getting a) additional vac schemes or b) paralegal jobs to bridge the gap between offer and LPC/TC. firms apparently like to see you’re good enough for other firms so should be good enough for them. Future open day attendee is perhaps a step too far though.

Chicken who came home to roost

Perhaps: again a 1 on 1 situation or on a CV or mentioning to recruiters but there is no need to have this on linkedin. Posting on your profile and listing on your headline that you are “future x” is mere grandstanding.

Anonymous

Putting future trainee in my Linkedin has actually be very helpful in securing paralegal roles before my TC. Legal Recruiters search ‘future trainee’ on linkedin and contact me

anon

Agreed, this is precisely what happened to me before starting my TC in 2017.

Future Trainee

Sounds like someone who has not secured a training contract and is jealous of those who have!

AnonStudent

True story, someone at my uni mentioned in a Vac scheme interview that they had secured another VS with a rival firm the week before – they were offered a TC

Anon

Bullshit.

also true story

I didn’t write the comment above but this happened for me with w&c and hl. definitely happens a lot.

AnonStudent

I did write the comment. I have no need or desire to lie about someone else being given a TC offer on the comments page of a Legal cheek article lol – not saying its a regular thing but obvs does happen

Anon

Whatever, pathological liar

True Story

True story. First thing I tell anyone I meet is that I have secured a training contract and am a future trainee solicitor, found my girlfriend this way. Normally people glare from excitement and give me an envious look when I turn my back to them. Once they asked me to become a king of a small country, had to refuse because it clashed with my future TC dates.

Future Trainee Solicitor

“These agreements are conditional.”
– How does the conditionality of the role make the term ‘future trainee solicitor’ a “nonsensical non-logical statement”???
– The fact that the word ‘future’ is mentioned implies that the term ‘future trainee solicitor’ is conditional on future circumstances (e.g. if the world ends in 2020, I can’t start my TC in 2021 etc).
– The term merely states what any profile viewer with common sense would surmise, that the person has received an offer from the firm. Common sense really isn’t that hard my dear.

“How can you be a future anything until you actually are one?”
– If you are already one then your title would just ‘trainee solicitor’??
– Again, what is so inherently illogical about being an incoming person to a role subject to conditions of time, economy and personal performance???

“So many want to brag about these achievements but there is no honour in bragging about something that hasn’t come to fruition.”
– I would argue that there is some honour in fending off thousands of other applicants to get a spot on a TC/VS.
– The fruition is the offer of the TC/VS, which the applicant has worked hard for and has in his/her possession.

“There is no leverage in being a “future [x]” especially when taking on the role is conditional on (1) actually completing the lpc (we all know its more likely than not but every year there seems to be a slaughters “future trainee” who fails a module) and (2) the firm actually taking you on.”
– As mentioned by someone else above, there is leverage as firms favour future trainees when looking to fill short-term paralegal roles.
– In most cases, barring failing the LPC or exceptional circumstances like a KWM collapse, this offer is 99% of the time being converted into an actual 2 year contract that is seen to its end. This so-called conditionality is usually de minimis unless you choose to be an idiot and totally flunk your LPC.

Why don’t you quit being salty because you failed to receive a TC and stop the fearmongering. Large firms that offer the bulk of TCs are full-service and sufficiently diversified in practice area. They aren’t just going to fold. At most, TC numbers in future cycles will be reduced and some offer holders will be deferred.

Anon

Quite — the post seems to negate the concept of futurity.

Future Trainee

It’s not only about bragging. It also advertises that you are suitable for jobs which only accept future trainees (which are quite common). I’ve had loads of recruiters reach out to me on LinkedIn precisely because of this.

future trainee

some firms actually give you the wording of “future trainee” for linkedIn – mine told us exactly what to put.

Anon

There are some good points on the quality of training mentioned already.

There’s also a hard commercial reality that stewardship has gone out of the window at most, although certainly not all, commercial law firms.

In most law firms the majority of equity points (and therefore voting rights) are held by the partners who have been their longest. Naturally, these are also usually the oldest.

These top of equity partners in their early fifties do not care about how the firm will look in 10-15 years time. They want to make as much money as possible in the next 5-6 years. Cutting trainee numbers now will likely help achieve that goal in the current market.

It’s crap, it encourages extreme short termism and it will probably leave those firms in a worse place long term, but it’s the reality of most law firm ownership structures.

If retiring partners could act like limited company directors and retain some equity as a retirement investment, you’d probably see a very different approach. But that’s not how firms work.

Anonymous

Short termism is always the most effective long term strategy.

Houdini

Appreciate your concerns and it’s a terrible situation to be in but it’s the same for large sections of the country. At least with a deferral, you’ll have a job to come back to. I’m afraid firms have more to worry about than just asking future trainees to start a little later.

They’ve got to pay support staff, business services, etc: people that keep law firms running behind the scenes. It’s an easy win to preserve other parts of the business and to protect firms’ most vulnerable employees from redundancy by asking future trainees join half a year later, especially if work has dried up. It doesn’t have to be a choice between the two but the state of some firms’ finances means they they have to make a call.

You’re going to add no value to the business if you’ve got no work to do; the same applies if you can’t even be in the office for training to learn how to do any work you (might) get.

I’m unconvinced by the comparison to the CMS CMNO AOHENSBDJASDH merger. Admittedly I’m no expert on the topic but that seemed like a case of managing too much trainee resource cf what the BoE thinks will be the worst recession in 300 years.

Would it be nice to not ask future trainees to defer? Yes. Is it practical for some firms? No.

Also, *risk-averse.

LOL

“The legal sector is traditionally risk adverse… The best response to this challenge requires innovative and collaborative thinking.”

LOL, that entire paragraph was such a textbook application answer, that didn’t say anything or add anything of value to this article.

My only response is: “Well, duh”.

Check your privilege

A lot of very privileged people in this comment section who don’t understand that certain ‘future’ trainees (who aren’t as lucky with regards to their background) need to figure out how to pay rent and eat for 6 months in a market where getting a job is going to be difficult and where they may not have savings or the Bank of Daddy to get them through 6 months without income.

Reality check - Check your privilege

Does not it look ridiculous when someone who gets a £10K grant for doing nothing for 5-6 months claims that they are repressed and not privileged?

In all seriousness, it is more than enough to pay rent for a decent room (or flat, outside of London) and get food on your table. Yes, you probably won’t be able to eat out much and will have to save on booze and foreign travel, but you will be far more privileged than millions of people who are unemployed because of COVID and have to daily think how to get food for their kids.

Anon

Why would you assume all firms will be giving grants?

Anon

Every firm gives a grant for the LPC and GDL. Even Ince Gordon gives a £7k grant for goodness sake.

Anon1

Surely the LPC grant is for the academic year (i.e September to June).

You can’t realistically be expected to make that 7-10k last an ADDITIONAL 5 months lol (if you’re deferred)

Anon

People affected by deferrals will have finished the LPC and will therefore have used the grant already…

Are firms likely to give a grant to deferred students? Surely they will considering they did in 2008?

Anonymous

Flip burgers or work in Tesco. You can have your self pity party while stacking cans for a bit.

Anon

And, if you have done the LPC AND the GDL, like some people in my intake have, you get a £20K grant altogether LOL

Shafted Future Trainee

Let’s be honest. For a 6 month deferral the payout will be more like £4-5k (and less in the regions). Basically crumbs.
So I fully understand why future trainees are worrying right now. Especially when this decision lies in the hand of a stingy firm that doesn’t even reimburse LPC fees.

Anonymous

In the face of the biggest, sharpest, least foreseeable recession on record it sucks to be about to enter the employment market. Nice letter, but the ladders are going up. Sorry, firms are businesses not charities.

Current trainee

Some good points made above regarding short term thinking of future trainees in resisting a deferral, however, firms that do postpone start dates should consider the message this sends to their future employees, namely that (i) the firm is not financially robust enough to withstand a few months of lockdown (noting that how the economy will rebound is yet to be seen), (ii) the firm does not appreciate those students’ financial positions and personal circumstances and (iii) the power imbalance by making the decision unilaterally, probably without consultation.

It will destroy morale and loyalty to the firm from the outset. When some firms are not deferring start dates, it shows that firms that are can’t handle the heat, or don’t value their trainees.

It will be interesting to see what qualification stats are in the future. Whilst deferral may be a sensible business decision it would undoubtedly have personal consequences.

Also, if an international commercial law firm doesn’t have enough work for its trainees even in these times, the partners are seriously bad at bringing in work or pushing it down. Or the business has insufficient counter cyclical practice areas.

Anonymous

Tosh from someone who has never looked at a firm’s accounts. “Robust enough” means one thing. How much profit is there for the partners. That is what keeps large firms together, nothing else. And that has to be the no 1 consideration in all decisions.

White Shoe

They can’t defer my Training Contract if I don’t have one.

Anonymous

Crap degree?

On furlough

Nice of everyone to assume all TC holders receive a £10 grand grant directly into their bank account to get them through. My firm paid it to my LPC provider, I had no grant and worked a job to get me through the LPC. I feel for those TC holders that are out of pocket and relying on family members for help while they find a job.

In saying that, a deferral does not reflect badly on a firm. A few commenters above are clearly young, short sighted and completely unaware of what is happening to law firms at a managerial level. Firms can not justify furloughing senior staff and partner pay cuts whilst they bring on trainees who require training by those very same partners, whose pay cuts in some cases are the same cost as a trainee salary. Think long term, kids.

Your average trainee

If only it didn’t start with the incorrect use of a semi-colon. Well done to your firm for hiring somebody so literate!

Anonymous

I saw this too and was surprised. There’s a sentence fragment later on too.

Don’t lawyers need to be able to write? And don’t Legal Cheek edit?

Totally true (fake) story lmao

I completely agree with ALL of the above, especially NONE OF IT!

Anonymous

So much entitlement witterings and ignorance about drives a partnership’s business on here. There is a massive oversupply at the entrance level and they really are very fungible. If there is not work to keep existing investments, ie staff, at full capacity, then drop the cost base as it is easier to ramp up in future. Just starting out in the work market at the time of a massive recession, sucks to be you. Make the most of the time off and if you are good enough it will make absolutely no difference.

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