Co-op still has the power to chill

Despite training U-turn, high street law venture will remain a draw

Do you like scary movies? The Co-op doesn’t.

After being spooked by a rocky financial performance, in which it lost £3.4m in the first half of 2013, Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has decided that it might not be such a wise idea to press ahead with its aim of offering 100 training contracts a year.

This is not the biggest shocker the legal market has experienced this year, but it is revealing as to CLS’ nervy mindset.

Once so brash in its ambition to take on the legal market and thrash it, CLS might seem to be beating a retreat. But any lawyers out there heaving a sigh of relief should think again. There may be more demons lurking around the next corner.

Yes, it is embarrassing for CLS to boast it will offer 100 training contracts annually within five years only to renege on that the very next year, but it is a smart decision.

By taking on its employees via a different route, namely that of its learning academy, run in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University, it avoids the unpredictable nature of the training contract and so the cost of training lawyers it decides it does not need upon qualification.

And that is many a graduate recruitment partner’s dream; taking the nerve-wracking guesswork of recruiting lawyers four years in advance and replacing it with an in-house trainer and a ready stream of prospective employees. 

Students and graduates are still very interested in the Co-op. They flock to it at law fairs, and, in this market, an employer is an employer is an employer.

Still, the thought of CLS trying to match the recruitment strategy of Clifford Chance or Allen & Overy is a little like a child decked out in greasepaint and a cheap witch’s costume for Halloween (both of which items the Co-op could flog you, incidentally). It might give you an initial scare, but you soon see through the disguise. So long as the child in question doesn’t turn out to be the legal equivalent of Damien or Michael Myers, slaying all in its path, you’re probably safe.

So, trick or treat?