HSBC legal chief dragged into ‘informal internships’ row

HSBC’s legal department is at the centre of the ongoing controversy surrounding ’informal’ work experience.

The situation has arisen after group general counsel Richard Bennett sent a rejection letter to a student who had sought unpaid work experience in the banking giant’s legal department.

According to today’s Financial Times, Bennett wrote in the letter that though HSBC’s financial business had a graduate internship programme the legal department “does not offer anything similar”.

He added: “HSBC does not have a structured work experience programme, although occasionally arrangements are made for sons and daughters of HSBC executives, particularly if they work in the legal or compliance departments to gain such experience.”

Despite the letter is it understood that HSBC’s legal department does in fact run a formal internship programme in conjunction with the University of Greenwich, aimed specifically at students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the bank also offers 180 paid internship places per year for which it receives over 2,000 applications.

A HSBC spokesperson said in a statement: “HSBC recruits from a variety of sources including referrals from employees. Inevitably there’s more demand for jobs than the supply of them. Merit is absolutely always the basis of recruit selection.”

The issue of informal work placements and the wider issue of nepotism in the context of graduate jobs was put under the spotlight following revelations that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg gained work experience in a bank as a result of his father’s contacts.

The rules regarding offering work experience to the offspring of partners varies across the top City firms. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, for instance, has stringent rules in place that prevent partners’ children from applying to the magic circle firm for vacation schemes and training contracts.

Meanwhile, Addleshaw Goddard recently tightened its guidelines in this area to ensure work experience was offered to students purely on merit and not as a result of family connections.