ONLY one of the 200 trainee barristers applying to Liverpool-based Exchange Chambers can hope for pupillage there next year.
And only one out of 250 applicants for a place at the Manchester office of Davies Arnold Cooper will get the job.
The figures make alarming reading for lawyers wishing to work in the north-west.
Roger Lane-Smith, managing partner at Alsop Wilkinson which has a large Manchester presence, says: "There is no more room for lawyers in Manchester. Prices are being driven down to levels approaching the unbearable.
"If firms continue to move in, there will be a mess, and it will be firms like ours which will have to come in and clear up the mess."
Exchange barrister Bill Braithwaite says: "We might not even take on one. We only want truly outstanding people here."
The chambers has a special selection process. Instead of a grilling by a panel of three or four senior barristers, shortlisted candidates spend a day in chambers so that they can "get the feel of the place and so that we can see them in a more natural manner", says Braithwaite.
Half the applicant on the first shortlist will be invited back for the second stage, a further two days at chambers.
The lucky pupil will receive a prize and a guaranteed income for the first 12 months of pupillage and the first two years of tenancy.
Braithwaite adds: "We are trying to create one of the best chambers in the country, quite something for a provincial set."
Davis Arnold Cooper spokesman Hamish Munro says: "The proportion of applicants to jobs, at 250-to-one, is absolutely staggering. And there are no signs that the quality of the applicants is deteriorating at all."
Pannone & Partners senior partner Rodger Pannone says: "Competition is a good thing, but new firms are only welcome in Manchester if they can offer they same quality of service as indigenous firms."
And Lace Mawer spokesman Peter Benett says: "We had 1,000 applicants for 11 places for articles this year. It is very difficult to get into Manchester at that end of the scale."
But he says firms are busy and the recession is "well and truly over". The firm is about to take on six lawyers in its Manchester and Liverpool offices.