The high cost of cheap training

One of the perennial problems faced by law firms is predicting how many trainees and newly qualified lawyers (NQs) they are likely to need, because they hire graduates two years in advance of them joining.

Consequently there’s a lot of guesswork involved, admits one recruitment partner. Given that it costs a City firm around £175,000 to train each of its lawyers, getting it wrong is simply not a palatable option.

So is Acculaw’s locum trainee the solution? As we reveal in today’s issue, former Hogan Lovells lawyer Susan Cooper has set up a groundbreaking training programme aimed at City firms and in-house legal departments that she claims will help them cut the upfront cost of hiring trainees as well as help tackle the oversupply of law students.

If the scheme takes off firms could ­dramatically reduce the number of trainees they hire per year and turn to Acculaw for additional resource on an ad hoc basis. At least, that’s what Acculaw is banking on.

On the face of it, Cooper’s plan is ingenious. It certainly ticks many of the boxes in the minds of cost-conscious managing partners. Indeed, if you look at the speed at which legal process outsourcing has taken off in the sector this might seem to be the logical next step. And the fact that former ­Linklaters senior partner Tony Angel thinks it’s a good idea will carry some weight in the City.

There are some potential issues for recruits, ­however. For example, how is Acculaw going to ­reconcile its clients’ desire to save money and its trainees’ wish to receive a quality training ­experience, because aren’t firms likely to deploy locum trainees on mundane tasks such as due ­diligence and discovery? And what will happen
to Acculaw trainees when they qualify? Firms retain the vast majority of their NQs, but as yet Cooper does not appear to be in a position to do
the same.

Any change that will help aspiring lawyers get ­a break is to be welcomed, but I can’t help but ­conclude that Acculaw’s scheme isn’t necessarily in the best interests of such individuals. Cooper’s brainchild raises some fascinating questions, but

it doesn’t have all the answers.;