September's newly-qualified lawyers have been hit hard by a dramatic fall in retention rates. Research by The Lawyer's sister publication Lawyer 2B shows that retention figures in some firms tumbled as much as 40 per cent.
Firms outside the top 10 were worst affected, with retention rates hovering at an average of 66 per cent. SJ Berwin retained just 61 per cent of its September qualifiers, a fall of 20 per cent on 2002. At Shoosmiths, 5 out of 10 were left without jobs. According to Shoosmiths HR director Louise Hadland, 2003 was the first year in which the firm failed to offer jobs to all qualifiers. She said: "I don't anticipate the same difficulty in 2004."
Taylor Wessing offered posts to 14 out of 21 of its newly-qualifieds, but only three made it into the firm's flagship intellectual property department - the same number as for real estate.
Shipping firms were also hit hard. Stephenson Harwood retained only 44 per cent. Watson Farley & Williams, however, clawed back from a grim 2002 to keep on around three quarters of newly-qualifieds this year.
The magic circle kept its figures respectable, but the real triumphs came from a handful of mid-sized players. Macfarlanes, Withers and Wragge & Co all kept on all of their qualifiers.
Outside of the top 50, Martineau Johnson trainees were informed by email that only 1 of 10 would be retained. At Speechly Bircham, just one trainee out of five stayed. HR director Nicola Swann said: "Each year, our retention figures are driven less by the economic climate and more by what the trainees want to achieve and what we can offer them."
One out of work Sept-ember qualifier said: "I used to think the hard part was getting the training contract. Now I know it's being kept on."