NQs face dole queue as retention rates drop

Newly qualified (NQ) retention rates for September 2009 qualifiers at a number of leading law firms have plummeted as worsening economic conditions hit the employment market.

Karen Potts

Karen Potts

Clifford Chance has become the latest magic ­circle firm to report a slump in its trainee solicitor ­retention rate.

The firm has confirmed that it has 70 trainees ­qualifying in September and plans to retain at least 49, giving it a retention rate of around 70 per cent.

This would put the firm’s retention rate on par with fellow magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s.

Clifford Chance’s retention rate for September 2008 NQs stood at around 95 per cent, while ­Freshfields held on to 39 out of 40 NQs last year, giving it a retention rate of 97 per cent.

Allen & Overy (A&O) and Linklaters have not finalised their qualification processes yet, but A&O has already warned final-seat trainees that its retention rate is also likely to be around the 70 per cent mark.

One magic circle NQ said: “I think the class of 2009 have had it really bad. It’s really tough because there are less jobs and those who are qualifying are ­working for less money; and on top of that there are far fewer career opportunities for those not kept on.”

Slaughter and May plans to keep on 47 of the 50 NQs due to qualify in September 2009 – a slight improvement on last year’s figure of 92 per cent.

Further down the ­pecking order, Farrer & Co has joined Bird & Bird and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in the 100 per cent club after offering jobs to all 10 of its September 2009 qualifiers.

Meanwhile, Norton Rose has reported a retention rate of 83 per cent after offering jobs to 20 out of 24 NQs. This is a slight drop from last September’s figure of 90 per cent.

The firm’s HR manager for trainees and recruitment Karen Potts said: “In comparison with last year, it’s going to be much more difficult for NQs who haven’t been retained to find a position elsewhere, because the jobs market is even tougher.”

In a bid to combat the ­difficult market conditions many firms are offering ­outplacement services to NQs who are not retained.

Mark Allsup, director of outplacement specialist DBM, said: “People will start to realise there are choices outside the legal ­sector and maybe start to look at other things like ­corporate advisory roles in the financial sector.”

Denton Wilde Sapte has reported a retention rate of only 48 per cent after ­offering jobs to 15 out of 31 NQs. Last year it retained a healthier 81 per cent.

Graduate recruitment partner Jeremy Cape said the firm had told all leavers to keep in contact for future opportunities.

“Although the market is pretty horrendous at the moment, I do hope that many will decide to stay with the law,” said Cape. “Who knows, we may need to expand in the future and we would of course look to former trainees who know our ­culture and business needs.”

Blake Lapthorn has so far confirmed the lowest retention rate after offering NQ positions to just two out of 14 trainees. The firm’s ­retention rate of 14 per cent is in stark contrast to last September, when it kept hold of 11 out of 15 NQs.

Elsewhere, Bircham Dyson Bell’s retention rate also plummeted to 40 per cent after it offered jobs to just four out of 10 NQs.