Over a quarter quit Ashurst, A&O, SJ Berwin; recruiters warn turnover rate to soar as M&A boom kicks in
Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS) has suffered the largest exodus of associates among the UK's top 50 law firms, with almost a third of its junior lawyers leaving the firm during the last financial year.
During the last financial year, 32.07 per cent of assistants left DWS, compared with a 14 per cent average assistant turnover rate at the UK's top 50 firms. The astonishing figures are revealed in the first-ever survey of assistant attrition rates, which was carried out by The Lawyer's sister title Lawyer 2B.
DWS claimed that the reason this figure was so much higher than those of the two previous financial years was due principally to the departures of teams from the firm's technology, media and telecoms and insurance departments.
Other firms that performed badly in the survey included Ashurst, which had an assistant turnover rate of 26 per cent. Meanwhile, Allen & Overy (A&O) and SJ Berwin each had an attrition rate of 25 per cent. A&O and Ashurst declined to comment.
SJ Berwin senior partner David Harrel said his firm's attrition rate has improved significantly. It stood at 8 per cent for the first six months of the current financial year. "The firm's been slow in recruiting over the last two years, but now that we've staffed up properly, the hours assistants are working are more tolerable," he said.
Joanne Street, a business manager at legal recruiter Hays Legal, warned that assistant turnover rates were likely to increase significantly over the coming months.
"Candidates are calling the shots again," said Street. "Law firms have to be very careful about looking after their associates because, as confidence in the market picks up, people will start moving around again."
A spokesperson for Hammonds, which had an attrition rate of 23 per cent, said: "There was a major firm restructure at the beginning of 2005 and, unfortunately, redundancies had an impact on our figures. However, since then staffing figures have remained stable and we expect retention rates to improve in the next financial year."
Bird & Bird and Clyde & Co had the fewest associates leave and boasted the lowest attrition rates - 2 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively.
Clifford Chance, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Lovells, McGrigors, Norton Rose, Simmons & Simmons, Slaughter and May and Taylor Wessing all refused to disclose their attrition rates.