SNR Denton cuts trainee places by nearly half over four-year period

The number of training contract vacancies at the UK’s top law firms has dropped by 10 per cent since the start of the financial ­crisis.

Clare Harris
Clare Harris

According to exclusive research conducted by The Lawyer’s sister title Lawyer 2B, 1,467 training contracts starting in 2011-12 were advertised by the top 20 firms in autumn 2008.

The same firms are now planning to hire just 1,320 trainees for their 2013-14 intakes.

The worst performer is SNR Denton, which has seen its graduate recruitment programme contract by almost 43 per cent. Prior to the collapse of US ­investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008, legacy firm Denton Wilde Sapte advertised 35 trainee vacancies. It ­eventually ended up hiring 28 graduates in 2011 and 30 the following year.

The firm, which has also suffered from a woeful newly qualified (NQ) lawyer retention rate of 14 per cent for its spring 2010 qualifiers, now anticipates making training contract offers to just 20 students for positions starting in 2013-14.

The firm’s graduate recruitment partner Jeremy Cape said: “We want to ensure that our highly ­motivated and talented recruits are kept busy and challenged throughout their training contracts.

“There’s generally a long lead time between recruiting trainees and their actual start dates. Our approach allows us to offer a set number of training ­contracts, but gives us the flexibility to offer more later on, depending on business need.”

Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells’ trainee recruitment programme has shrunk by almost a third.

At the height of the ­economic boom legacy firm Lovells budgeted for approximately 90 trainees. This figure has been scaled back to just 60-65 for the current recruitment round.

“The market in London is still fairly uncertain,” ­commented Hogan Lovells head of resourcing Clare Harris, “so we need to make sure we have the right number of trainees.

These numbers are just a ­guideline, and if we ­interview a really high-­calibre candidate then we could go beyond this level.

“There will always be a place for good graduate recruitment programmes at reputable law firms. But the volume of vacancies will fluctuate depending on market conditions. Clearly, we cannot predict how the current situation will pan out.”

Herbert Smith, meanwhile, has scaled back its graduate recruitment programme by 19 per cent for the same period. The firm cut back from 105 to 95 in 2009 and then to 85 last year and will be sticking to this figure for the current recruitment round.

Eversheds has seen its trainee recruitment scheme shrink by just over 14 per cent, with the firm pledging to offer places to no fewer than 60 trainees this year.

Of the magic circle firms, Allen & Overy (A&O) emerged as the worst performer, with its programme being cut by 12.5 per cent, from 120 vacancies advertised in autumn 2008 to 105 this year. However, this is expected to be cut further to just 90 for positions ­starting in 2014 (A&O hires trainees on a calendar year basis).

A spokesperson for A&O said: “We continue to grow in London, but not at the significant rate we’ve ­experienced in the past.

Our London recruitment needs to reflect this.”

In contrast, rival magic circle firm Freshfields ­Bruckhaus Deringer has increased the number of trainees it plans to hire in 2013 from 90 to 100. This takes the number of ­vacancies at Freshfields back to pre-recession levels.

Simon Johnson, the firm’s graduate recruitment ­partner, said: “Our trainee intake has remained ­relatively steady over the past few years and we’re pleased that we’re now able to offer more bright ­graduates the opportunity to join the firm, particularly as competition for training contracts remains tough.”

Indeed, not all of the top firms have cut back their programmes, with many including Ashurst and ­Norton Rose, planning to hire the same number of trainees as they did in the period before the recession hit.

Meanwhile, Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and DLA Piper have also bucked the trend by expanding their schemes this year.

BLP, which stunned the market earlier this month by announcing a 56 per cent jump in average profit per equity partner, plans to offer training contracts to 45 ­candidates this year ­compared with 40 in 2009.

DLA Piper, meanwhile, has increased the size of its 2013 intake to 90 following a slight dip in recent years, although this figure still lags behind the firm’s pre-­recession showing of 100.

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