Firms’ recovery optimism tempered as training contract criteria is made ‘stricter’

Claire Evans

Claire Evans

At the ninth annual recruiters lunch organised by The Lawyer’s sister publication Lawyer 2B and sponsored by BPP Law School, more than 50 graduate recruiters from law firms across the country met to discuss how the recession had hit their recruitment strategies for 2012.

Most recruiters admitted that they would be cutting back slightly on the amount of law fairs they would be attending, but stressed that they would be maintaining their presence on campus.That said, many recruiters will be looking at ways of making their law school visits more cost-effective.

DLA Piper graduate recruitment executive Claire Evans said: “We’ve had to rethink the way in which we spend our recruitment budget this year. We’re not throwing money at things like law society balls – instead we’re looking at hosting more career-orientated events.”

Victoria Wisson

Victoria Wisson

Evans said DLA Piper had actually stepped up its on-campus presence by offering to host work-shops for students on a range of topics, including surviving vacation schemes and filling out law firm ­applications.

“It’s important that we’re still seen on campus and this way we’re doing something useful for students,” she explained.

In line with this cautiously optimistic outlook, and despite many recruiters ­having to tighten their belts for the coming recruitment year, a snapshot survey ­conducted by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) found that 61 per cent of employers plan to spend the same amount of time or more on campus to attract graduates.

The survey also highlighted employer confidence in the UK economy is ­higher than three months ago, with 49 per cent of those ­surveyed saying they were ‘slightly’ or ‘much’ more ­confident.

AGR chief executive Carl Gilleard said: “The fact that most employers expect to have an active presence on campuses this year and are maintaining or raising their graduate recruitment ­targets shows an understanding of how important investment in attracting new talent is to the future of their businesses, even ­during tougher economic times.”

London School of ­Economics (LSE) careers adviser Ian McLoughlin has seen first-hand that law firms are maintaining their visibility on campus, even though vacancy levels are lower this year.

“We’re still running a two-day law fair and have the same numbers as last year,” he said. “We’ve also seen more law firms offering to do things like workshops with the students.”

McLoughlin also noted that he had started to see the banking sector increase its recruitment drive ­compared with last year.

“They’re even more ­bullish than usual and they say recruitment is up on last year by 50 per cent,” said McLoughlin. “But in the grand scheme of things it’s not up to the dizzying heights of two or three years ago.”

Earlier this year the AGR reported that investment banking had been one of the biggest casualties of the recession, reporting a 35.2 per cent drop in recruitment since 2008.

Mel Binks

Mel Binks

CMS Cameron McKenna recruitment officer ­Victoria Wisson admitted that law still remains an attractive option for ­students.

“One thing I’d say is that many of the careers services I’ve talked to are seeing a reduction in the amount of students using them and that could be down to ­students freaking out about the jobs market and burying their heads in the sand.

But it’s never been more ­important to start thinking about your career,” stressed ­Wisson.

But despite law firms becoming more optimistic about the prospects of an economic recovery, would-be lawyers looking to secure training contracts for 2012-13 are likely to find it just as tough as for their peers who battled it out for graduate positions earlier this year.

Due to the recession many firms asked trainees who were due to join in September to push back their start dates for up to two years. The knock-on effect has been that vacancies for 2012-13 have been reduced.

Denton Wilde Sapte graduate recruitment ­officer Kate Raggett admitted: “We’ll be recruiting fewer people this year because of the deferrals. This means we’re going to be much stricter sifting through applications.”

Consequently, many recruiters are predicting that students planning to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts over the coming months will see increased competition. This is expected to be exacerbated by many students deciding to delay their applications by 12 months in the hope that market conditions will improve.

Slaughter and May HR manager for trainees Mel Binks said: “I think the recent economic downturn has made graduates think more broadly and they’re not blindly walking into a career in the City. That’s not a bad thing; it’s not ­for everyone.”