You’re hired: trainee retention defies crunch

The Lawyer’s survey of leading law firms reveals 7 per cent improvement on last year’s figures.

The credit crunch has failed to have an impact on trainee retention rates, with early indications from a cross-section of leading firms showing an overall improvement on last year, The Lawyer can reveal.

At firms where the qualification process has already completed, September 2008 retention rates have improved by an average of 7 per cent, with more than three-quarters of firms keeping on a higher proportion of trainees this year than last.

Magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is the largest firm to have completed the offer process and, along with firms such as CMS Cameron McKenna, Norton Rose, Pinsent Masons, SJ Berwin and Taylor Wessing**, has seen an increase in retention.

Leading the pack is Norton Rose, which will see 91 per cent of its trainees return as associates in September – up from 88 per cent last year.

Norton Rose’s HR director Lak Purewal said it would be shortsighted to allow current market conditions to dictate the firm’s hiring strategy. “If, as soon as there was the sniff of a downturn, we suddenly started cutting trainee numbers back, it would have an impact on people joining us in future,” he said.

Mark Rawlinson, graduate recruitment partner at Freshfields, where retention has nudged up to 89 per cent from 87 per cent last year, echoed this view, saying: “Trainees are a long-term investment.”

At Pinsent Masons the retention rate improved from 75 per cent in 2007 to 89 per cent this year.

Osborne Clarke and Morgan Colehave also seen retention improve significantly on last year, with rates of 73 per cent and 88 per cent respectively.

Three firms so far have seen retention dip, with Clyde & Co’s rate dropping from 90 per cent to 78 per cent. This is compared with 2006’s figure of 59 per cent.

Denton Wilde Sapte and Irwin Mitchell have also seen retention drop.

**Since going to press, Taylor Wessing has received additional acceptances from its trainees: 21 out of 23 trainees will be staying with the firm, taking its retention rate to 91 per cent; 19 trainees were offered places in their first choice departments.

Source: The Lawyer/Lawyer 2B