City firms question cost of payouts to prize-winners

CITY law firms are reviewing their policies of awarding incentive payments to recruits who excel in their qualifying examinations after this year's College of Law results revealed a greater number of students gaining distinctions.

In the past many of the top firms made one-off bonus payments to those students who achieved first and second-class honours in their Law Society Finals.

But outstanding results for the first year of the college's new legal practice course – with 22 per cent of the 85.1 per cent who passed gaining distinctions and 46 per cent taking commendations – could cause firms to rethink their payment schemes.

Baker & McKenzie's trainee recruitment partner, Russell Lewin, says the firm will honour its commitments for this year and award u600 to trainees with distinctions and u500 to those who receive commendations.

However, he says it is probable the scheme will be revamped before next year's results are known.

Based on the results, the practice, which made payments to 38 per cent of its 1993/94 intake, will award 80 per cent of current intake.

“We, as a firm, need to rethink our policy simply because the idea was that we were awarding excellence. When 80 per cent are getting honours then, in a way, it dilutes the significance,” says Lewin. “

Trefor John, trainee partner at Stephenson Harwood, says the firm dropped its award system when the new course was introduced.

“We reviewed the position following the change. At that stage we decided to discontinue giving prizes,” says John.

“The main reason was that there was no longer one national exam.”

The chair of the college's board of management, Richard Holbrook, says the increase in the pass rate would have been similar if the Law Society Finals still existed.

He says the new course is no easier, but the academic standard of the students at intake was higher.

Those undertaking the course are also more motivated because they are forced to pay for their own tuition, and job prospects have been reduced, he says.