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TOP City law firms deny they are being squeezed out of important business by their medium-sized rivals despite new statistics out this week.
The figures show that the number of assistants at the top 10 City firms has dropped below 1992 levels, and that assistants' salary rates have fallen for the first time in living memory.
The '1994-95 Chambers and Partners Directory', out this week, also reveals that West End trainee and assistant salaries are catching up with those of their rivals' in the City.
Salary levels in the South East and the North also rose sharply.
There are now 3,642 assistants and partners in the top 10 firms, says the guide, compared to 3,746 in 1993 and 3,672 in 1992.
Slaughter and May lost 32 solicitors and slipped from third place in the table to sixth. Linklaters & Paines took on 19 new lawyers, but was the only firm in the top 10 to show an increase. Simmons & Simmons held on to their 276 solicitors.
Head of personnel at Slaughter and May, Neil Morgan, says: "We are taking on 50 trainees as newly-qualified assistants now, and a further 25 in March. These figures do not reflect that." He would not comment on assistants' salaries. Slaughters lost 32 lawyers in 1993-94, according to the guide.
Norton Rose spokesman Chris Manners says solicitors became more mobile when the recession started.
"Firms grew faster than they would have expected, to a point where the cost base got out of hand. Therefore all City firms during the last couple of years have made people redundant."
But the guide's managing editor, Michael Chambers, says: "If they have fewer assistants, and are paying them less, then something must be wrong at the biggest City firms. Medium-sized firms have done very well."
The majority of firms outside the top 10 maintained or increased their numbers.