Trainee numbers dipped 11% in first year of pandemic, new stats show

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By Aishah Hussain on


Prior to lockdown, TCs were at their highest level since the 2008 financial crash

The number of training contracts on offer in England and Wales fell by just over 11% in the first year of the pandemic, new statistics have shown.

The Law Society’s Annual Statistics Report 2020, released this week, shows that 5,626 trainees started on their two-year training contracts in 2019-20, an 11.3% decrease on the year before. In 2018-19, training contract numbers went from 5,811 to 6,344, the highest they’d been since the 2008 financial crash.

Taking a deeper look at this year’s data, including the date of registrations, the Law Society said “it is clear the national lockdown in March 2020 had an impact”.

Training contract numbers fell by over a third in the four months after the UK plunged into lockdown, according to the report, which was due to be released in 2021 but delayed due to a “technical issue” with the data. Trainee registrations between April and July 2020 dropped by 39% on average as compared to the figures from the year before.

Around this time some big law firms decided to defer their training contract start dates by about six months, often citing the practical difficulties presented by Covid-19 and move to remote-working or reduced workloads. The firms affected offered trainees several thousands of pounds for the inconvenience.

Yet the impact was not as bad as had been feared. The firms soon reconvened their training contracts and some actually increased their intakes.

Most notably, the City’s big players reported record financial earnings as a boom in deal-making fuelled bumper partner pay-outs. They used this financial firepower to dole out Covid ‘appreciation’ bonuses and bump up junior lawyer rates to record-breaking levels. A number of firms were also in a position to pay back the money they claimed (mainly to cover secretarial and other support staff) under the government’s furlough scheme.

The 2022 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Turning back to the Law Society’s findings and it seems that wanting to train as a solicitor is still a very London-focused pursuit as the City was home to a third of all trainees altogether. With Greater London accounted for, London was the workplace for just over half of all training contracts.

Beyond London, the North West region offered the most training contracts in England and Wales.

The report further shows that nearly 90% of trainees are in private practice with the rest working in-house, in a government department or advice service.

The largest firms take on more trainees than smaller ones overall, and the very largest (with 81+ partners) are responsible for more than one third (37.6%) of all training contracts in private practice. Legal Cheek‘s Firms Most List 2022 has the lowdown on which firms offer the most (and least) TCs in London.

For over 30 years the Law Society has compiled its annual statistics report, offering a snapshot of the key trends in the solicitors’ profession. The Society aims to press ahead with publication of the 2021 report later this year.

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) officially went live on 1 September 2021, becoming the new route to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales.

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