A&O Shearman keeps 37 of 56 qualifying trainees in first post-merger retention round

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By Legal Cheek on



A&O Shearman has recorded its first post-merger retention score, with 37 of its 56 trainees staying put.

The new outfit confirmed it made 39 offers to the 48 trainees who applied for newly qualified roles. Thirty-seven offers were accepted, all on permanent deals.

Before the tie-up, Allen & Overy offered significantly more training contracts than Shearman, with 80 each year compared to Shearman’s 12.

Combining the trainee intakes of both firms has resulted in a larger-than-usual qualifying cohort, making the lower score — in this case 66% — somewhat expected.

Both outfits were typically strong retention performers prior to the merger, with A&O posting a result of 77% earlier this year and Shearman regularly chalking up results of over 80%.

The 2024 Legal Cheek Firms Most List

The firms officially joined forces on May 1, creating a new global mega-firm with nearly 4,000 lawyers across 48 offices in 29 countries and combined annual revenues of approximately $3.5 billion (£2.9 billion).

James Partridge, early careers partner and training principal London, commented:

“This is the first qualifying cohort of A&O Shearman, and we are pleased that 37 trainees from both legacy firms have chosen to remain and progress their careers with us at this exciting time for the firm.”

“At A&O Shearman we remain committed to investing and developing our people and extend our congratulations to our first combined intake of qualifying solicitors,” Partridge continued.

The Legal Cheek Firms Most List shows the new recruits will start on a recently-improved salary £150,000.



Is that good or bad?



Like very very bad…

The NQ market is in the gutter


Given the combined cohorts and current NQ market, I don’t think this is too bad a result.

There will be worse scores coming – or firms just won’t bother publishing them.


The 19 without offers would say otherwise.

Maths Teacher

First sentence: “it made 39 offers to the 48 trainees who applied”

48 – 39 = 9

9 without offers.

@ idiot maths teacher

The trainees who didn’t apply for an internal NQ role did not receive any offers because they did not apply.

Therefore, they also did not receive offers and the above commenter (John) is technically correct.

9 who applied but did not get an offer = without an offer

10 who did not apply internally = also without an offer

TOTAL = 19 trainees without offers

I hope this helps! You need it…


I don’t think its particularly great or anything – but in the current climate it may be quite reasonable both compared to other firms generally, and considering the merger may have influenced the outcome.

Ding Dong the NQ Market is Gone

What they won’t tell you is of the 37 staying on not all of them are qualifying into teams they wanted to.



The retention figures are heavily distorted.

If you factor in the number of trainees (not just at A&O but most firms across the city) qualifying into their 1st choice teams the retention is probably around 20ish percent.

A&O S Unretained

The trainees who qualified last year were so lucky.

They overhired across departments and even in the niche specialist teams.

If a team posted 4 roles last year but 6 applied they took on all of them.

This year they’ve been very strict and teams don’t have the budgets apparently.

Unretained UK firm trainee

So these are the unretained trainees I’m also up against for external roles? Not even including US firm unretained trainees…

I need to go to the job centre. Pray for me


Don’t lose hope.

The NQ market may be dead but there are always in house roles.

Keep ya head up


For every NQ role there are hundreds of applicants and they end up taking the ones with most experience.

Not as easy as it sounds.


I was thinking the same thing lmaooo.

This explains why there are over 80 applicants per NQ role and why I’m not getting anywhere with interviews.

Unrestrained and Unretained

Can anyone recommend a way to divest myself of numerous large commitments that I have obtained during TC but am
now unable to afford as a result of being sent packing?

Be sensible

Shouldn’t have inflated your lifestyle.

Completely on you mate.

Makes sense to splash out if you’ve got the NQ role secured but why are you doing that as a trainee with no guarantee of NQ role?

And Unrealistic

Get a time machine. Go back a few years and set your sights lower, aim for a career which you are capable of doing.

US doyen

Blimey! It’s still better than the retention rates at various mid market US firms.

The high salary has resulted in a reduction of NQ roles and consequently killed the career of many aspiring solicitors.


There is no correlation between NQ salaries and retention rates.

The NQ market is very dire and that has nothing to do with the salary increases.

Firms are increasing their salaries because they want to retain 2-5PQEs which is where the hiring is currently happening.

There isn’t a demand for NQs and the market is very saturated at junior level.

Second seat trainee anticipating decision time next September

Genuine question to those unretained this rotation – what’s your plan?

It seems NQs have three options when not retained in the area they want:

1. Settle for a different practice area at your firm
2. Downgrade a firm or go in house
3. Just sack it all in together and do something different

Option 1 feels a bit rash and sad. Realistically, you’ve no guarantee of switching disciplines and so why potentially decide a career in an area you didn’t want just to have the same employer for an additional year or two?

Option 2 hurts your pride I guess but when the market bounces back you can always hope to upgrade a firm (although this could be similar wishful thinking to option 1).

Option 3 is the most ballsy and is basically acknowledging the sign from the universe to ditch the 2 am redlines for a lesser paid but more balanced career.

Genuinely interested in the plans of unrestrained trainees at this moment in time.

Truth Serum

Option 1 – This is not “rash and sad” whatsoever. Job security is very important to everyone especially in a cost of living crisis. It is easy to sit on your high horse and talk down on people qualifying into departments that were not their first choice and I would pipe down if I were you as it can very well happen to you this time next year.

You are also neglecting to consider that many trainees across the city are on a Visa and require a job offer to stay in the country and so they may have accepted a role in department that was not their preferred choice for the sake of not being deported – again there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Personal circumstances trump personal preference.

It is all nice and dandy to have a “dream practice area” but a job is a job at the end of the day and a six figure job does not come by easily. Ultimately, the fundamentals of what you are doing in each practice group is the same. You go to work, you do emails, you review and draft documents and contracts, you attend meetings etc.

Take it from someone who has been qualified for many years, switching disciplines is more common than you think and when the market is dire like it is now a lot of firms understand that trainees are having to qualify into teams they did not want and they are open to hiring someone later down the line when roles do open up again. The other benefit of staying at your current firm is you are more likely to be able to move over to another department internally if a role does become available a year or so down the line – I have seen this happen time and time again.

What you need to understand is that trainees are not being unretained because they are not good. Some of the best trainees in my firm are without any offers because the departments simply are not hiring, or they are hiring but only have the budget for a few or due to internal politics and odd decision making they have not been selected for whatever reason (I won’t go into that but if you know you know).

Option 2 – There is no shame in going in house or to a smaller firm. It is not a “downgrade” and viewing it like that is very negative. It is simply redirection and you can absolutely move back to private practice when the market picks up.

Option 3 – This should be a last resort to all trainees. Keep looking and you will find something!

Second seat trainee

You’re telling me to pipe down as this could happen to me next year when I literally put in my comment that I am interested because I am anticipating this exact situation.

My comment was a genuine interest of what people are doing because these are the options I am considering.

Yes to me it seems rash and sad to dedicate yourself to a practice area you dont enjoy just so you can stay at the same firm.

I’d personally rather choose something I enjoy with a different employer / lower salary than something I don’t enjoy just to stay with my current employer. Fair enough if your views are different, it’s your career to do with as you please.

Gemma A

I’m not the ‘Truth Serum’ guy but he was very valid in his response.

The way you wrote the comment was very condescending and rude.

Mocking peoples circumstances is not cool.

Qualifying into not your first choice is not beneath anyone.

You are clearly very close minded and lack perspective.


“Yes to me it seems rash and sad to dedicate yourself to a practice area you dont enjoy just so you can stay at the same firm.

I’d personally rather choose something I enjoy with a different employer / lower salary than something I don’t enjoy just to stay with my current employer”

I’m going to assume naivety on your part to give you the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t think you realise just how bad the NQ market is right now. It is quite literally dead. There are almost no roles solely aimed at NQs.

There are a lot of trainees without offers from their current firm and they are struggling to find roles elsewhere. It is not as straightforward as just moving to a smaller firm or going in house – there are very limited if not no roles going at smaller firms.

Come September there will be many unemployed NQs…

One who has been there

Perhaps your response is indicative of your approach and may explain why you weren’t taken on.

A bit of self-reflection and pride swallowing may be in order there.

Second seat trainee anticipating decision time next September

Perhaps if you read the comment correctly you’ll see I’m a second seat trainee and so am still at my firm


FWIW it’s been far too easy to secure a trainee contract during 2020-2022 because firms were anticipating an uptick in demand that resulted in over-hiring / hiring of below-average candidates who shouldn’t have secured a role in the first place.

The current market condition proves once and for all that only the strong survive.

Trainees who trained at a ‘top’ US firm (£160k+ NQ) suffer the most from the current downturn in the legal market. Your training is perceived to be worse than any UK firms (not even speaking about silver or magic circle) and is therefore not valued by prospective employers.

That being said, your training contract provides you with the opportunity to handle internal and external clients. It’s a valuable skill if you want to work in sales.


Trainees from top US firms do not suffer. Any top US firm looks great on a CV and if you have a bit of flexibility you will get a job somewhere. Interesting that English firms are not recording great retention rates whilst I know for a fact LW has retained all except one. YMMV but that’s a US firm with a big intake and its retention is far better than UK firms.

Also, “Only the strong survive” … this is commercial law and paper pushing, not the Hunger Games. Stupid comment

Myth Buster

I’d never hire trainees from any top US firms other than Latham and W&C. Top UK firm trained trainees are far better than US trainees.


Genuinely curious, in what way are they better trained than US trainees?

SM insider

As someone who started at Slaughters and moved over to a (smallish) US firm in London, there is a huge difference. At SM, formal training sessions were partner led. At my current shop, it is all handled by one rather overwhelmed PSL. Also having access to proper standard documents/ practice notes is a huge boost as a junior lawyer. It teaches you how things ought to be done.


There is no real formal structure and training at US firms.

They throw you in the deep end. You’re given a lot of responsibility on matters without much supervision.

Doesn’t always make for the best lawyers.


I’m sorry but this is patently untrue. I presume you were rejected by US firms or you now regret your choice to train at a UK firm?

The retention rate at my US firm is not great this year (c60%) but every single departing trainee has gained an offer from another US firm.


Likely consequence of hiking NQ salaries 40% in the space of 2 years.

MC have moved irreversibly toward aping the US model of maximizing return from (and salaries to) a smaller number of lawyers. This model does not work with too many juniors

First stage in reorienting is to move towards taking on fewer, better trainees, who are more likely to qualify (guaranteeing ROI on training).

Second stage is to cull the bloated junior ranks – natural “manage out” points here remain 2pqe and 5pqe. Up or out culture is going to be more forcefully deployed.

Third stage is to increase return from the remaining lawyers, by increasing target hours, from the English norm of c.1800 up to the US norm of 2000-2200.

Those of us who warned of this were downvoted relentlessly. Welcome to the market, kids.

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