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Dechert's decision to hike LPC maintenance grants by 43 per cent to £10,000 has received a mixed reaction from rival firms as they assess the impact of the shock move.
As exclusively revealed in the May issue of The Lawyer's student magazine Lawyer 2B, the US firm is boosting the grants it pays to LPC students by £3,000 to £10,000 from September 2008. However, unlike most of its rivals, Dechert does not pay maintenance grants to GDL students.
The increase eclipses the £8,000 paid by a number of US firms, including New York heavyweight Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and the West Coast's Morrison & Foerster. Most City firms, meanwhile, pay their LPC students a £7,000 maintenance grant.
Dechert graduate recruitment manager Julie Williams said: "Our maintenance grant level is an indication of our commitment to our trainee solicitor recruits, as is the salary level we offer. We'll be reviewing our salary levels in June."
All of the firms contacted by The Lawyer said they were very surprised by the size of the increase. With the exception of Baker & McKenzie, which is looking at maintenance grants as part of its salary review, most firms said they are watching the move closely but currently have no plans to up their awards.
One graduate recruitment manager at a US firm said she was "astonished" by the move and added that the timing was very astute, as students will currently be looking at which firms to apply to.
A graduate recruitment manager at another firm dismissed the move and argued that the size of maintenance grants is just one factor that students take into account when choosing which firms to apply to.
Comments from partners have been equally split. One magic circle partner said: "Dechert has set a new benchmark and firms like ours can't be seen to be lagging behind, so I'd be surprised if we don't at least match it or surpass it before long."
But a partner at another City firm was more scathing. "I think sometimes we see US firms doing things that are a bit unnecessary, but on the other hand it's a competitive market," he said. "I think we'd be more interested in seeing what the UK firms with sizeable trainee pools are doing."
Linklaters sparked the last maintenance grants war after it boosted payments by 40 per cent, from £5,000 to £7,000, for LPC students studying in London.