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Leading law firms are breaking Law Society codes on training contract offer deadlines, the Legal and Education Training Group (LETG) has claimed.
Bernard George, treasurer of the LETG and director of training at Dechert, said the culprits include some "respec-table and substantial firms". Under the terms of the Law Society's Code of Good Practice in the Recruitment of Trainee Solicitors, firms are not supposed to offer training contracts to students until they have entered their final undergraduate year.
But some firms are said to be ignoring the guidelines in order to beat the rush for top-class candidates. As a result, the Law Society is writing to firms to remind them that the code exists. "The reason we have this code in the first place is that, every year, 60 or 70 firms fight hard for the elite graduates, and there's naturally a temptation to recruit six months before everyone else and get the cream," said George.
"So we have this sensible rule to allow people to recruit fairly." Anecdotal evidence from LETG members suggests that a "modest but significant" number of mid-range firms are still making early job offers. Another tactic is to present students with "unacceptably short" deadlines to force them into a quick decision.
"We don't want people to be put under pressure to accept. But some students have been told it's a 'business necessity'," added George.
While the Law Society code is not legally binding, George said firms had to be able to trust each other to stick to the guidelines or the system would be untenable.
"The LETG committee is worried about this and we're glad the Law Society is going to take it seriously," said George.