Keep on keepin on
5 October 2004
Beware all you trainees Lawyer 2Bs first comprehensive survey of the retention habits of the top 50 firms has shown that one in five of you will be moving on come the completion of your training contract. Across the largest 50 firms, the average retention rate for 2004 was 79 per cent in some strange statistical quirk, the same as in 2003. Barring some huge and swift economic shift, the pattern should continue into at least next year as firms continue to recover from the slowdown since 2001.
In some instances, of course, it will be the trainee who, come qualification, is sprinting for the door rather than being shown it by the boot of the senior partner. But the majority of those 288 newly qualified solicitors who left the firms that trained them this September will have wanted to stay. If the oft-quoted figure of 150,000 to train and produce a single lawyer is true, then that is a whopping 43m wasted across the firms.
Over the last two years, the magic circle Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance,FreshfieldsBruckhaus DeringerandLinklatershave displayed consistently high and stable rates, with retention rates in the 80 and 90 per cent range.
The large national firms DLA and Eversheds did not quite match the magic circle, losing 16 trainees apiece, giving them retention rates of 80 and 83 per cent respectively.
Be on your best and most brilliant behaviour if Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS) is your employer. In 2004 and 2003, the firm has held the unenviable record of letting the highest amount of people go. In 2004, 18 of 49 trainees left, giving the firm a retention rate of 63 per cent. Worryingly, this actually represents an increase, as last year the firm bid farewell to an alarming 20 of its 48 trainees. The firm has stated that it intends to recruit fewer trainees in the future, so this may go some way to improving retention.
If you are a student and all this talk of not been kept on is making you feel weak at the knees, then consider a trip to Birmingham. Although no longer such a keen advocate of the single site outside London policy, Wragge & Co continues to be a flagship firm for the city. It is the only firm able to boast 100 per cent retention of its trainees in both 2003 and 2004.
Wragges senior partner Quentin Poole says this is a deliberate strategy to invest in the future and slams firms with low retention rates as short-sighted.
Our approach is one of taking a very long-term view that goes right through our business, says Poole. When you get corporate downturns, the easiest way to cut costs quickly is to lose people.
Making people redundant costs money, so the cheapest way is to tell trainees not to come for a year or not to take them when they qualify. The alternative is you recruit those people and carry significant costs.
Poole admits that the firms profits are down, but says the decision not to slash and burn will pay dividends when a boom time emerges.
Of course, for some of the smaller firms that recruit a limited number of trainees, the departure of one or two individuals will have a far greater impact on their retention rates.
For example, Salans takes on a small number of trainees given its size and had a retention rate of 100 per cent this year because all three of the trainees were kept on, but a 25 per cent rate the year before because three out of four left.
It is a similar story at Bevan Ashford and Taylor Wessing, which both posted retention rates way below the average. In both instances, though, it was not a question of there not being jobs available for the trainees upon qualification.
Bevan Ashford HR officer Kim Tomlinson explains that at her firm two trainees were offered jobs, but left for personal reasons as they wanted to relocate to cities in which Bevan Ashford had no offices. They were as sad to leave the firm as we were to have them leave, she says. Had the two newly-qualifieds in question stayed, retention would have stood at 79 per cent.
At Taylor Wessing the problem with retention was again not simply a question of not having any jobs available for the qualifying lawyers. Graduate recruitment manager Sophie Ferguson says: The difficulty this year was we had more interest in some of the smaller departments. There were six people interested in employment and pensions, but they could only take three. We had less interest in corporate and finance, which would have taken more. Our trainees were adamant about what they wanted to do. It wasnt a business thing, it was very much about the trainees making those decisions.
Ferguson says that in future the firm will try to make sure trainees have a sense of the needs of the business and are aware that their preferences, to some extent, have to tie in with this. All the Taylor Wessing trainees departing in September have secured jobs at other law firms.
In total 1,097 trainees did make the grade and were happy enough to stay at their firms.
Those staying have gone on to earn an average of 45,917 a small increase on the previous year. But where the individual firms are concerned, pay has stabilised considerably. Last year a fifth of the top 50 firms, including magic circle giant Clifford Chance, shaved a few thousand pounds of their newly-qualifieds salaries. In 2003 none of the firms surveyed had increased their salaries, with the majority leaving them fixed.
This year the situation is rosier. None of the firms has made paycuts, although most have shied away from increases. Clifford Chance, SJ Berwin and Travers Smith Braithwaite have reversed their decisions last year to cut trainee salaries from 50,000 to 48,000, and their salaries are now back at the 2002 level.
Masons, the firm that held the dubious honour of making the largest salary cut, from 47,000 to 43,000, has this year given newly-qualifieds a modest 3.5 per cent payrise, putting the salary at 44,500.
Meanwhile, Linklaters has the distinction of becoming the first UK firm to break the 50,000 threshold, albeit by only 1,000, after a firmwide 2 per cent salary increase.
Wragges has again distinguished itself by rolling out a 14 per cent pay increase for its London-based newly-qualifieds, which is the largest payrise this year.
THE NATIONAL FIRMTrainee retention rate: 71 per cent
Trainee retention rate: 93 per cent
THE CITY FIRM
The top 50 firms, according to The Lawyer UK 100 Annual Report 2004, were sent a survey. The overwhelming majority responded, but, where they did not, market knowledge and previous survey answers from research by The Lawyer or Lawyer 2B have been used. The answers are based on London or head office figures.
|Trainee retention rates at top 50 UK firms|
|Rank||Firm||Qualif'd Sept'04||Ret'nd 2004||Ret'nd per cent 2004||Qualif'd Sept'03||Ret'nd 2003||Ret'nd per cent 2003||Ch'ge on per cent 2003|
|4||Allen & Overy||60||54||90.0||60||54||90.0||0.0|
|8||Slaughter and May||55||52||94.5||47||44||93.6||0.9|
|14||CMS Cameron McKenna||30||26||86.7||35||30||85.7||1.0|
|19||Clyde & Co||20||18||90.0||21||15||71.4||18.6|
|26||Wragge & Co||17||17||100.0||16||16||100.0||0.0|
|27||Barlow Lyde & Gilbert||15||11||73.3||18||13||72.2||1.1|
|28||Bird & Bird||18||12||66.7||12||8||66.7||0.0|
|40||Field Fisher Waterhouse||12||9||75.0||12||11||91.7||-16.7|
|42||Ince & Co||12||7||58.3||12||9||75.0||-16.7|
|Totals & averages||1,385||1,097||79.2||1,400||1,114||79.6||-0.4|