Plunge in number of contracts shows market is behind the game

News last week that the number of training contracts has contracted by a whopping 10.5 per cent in the past year is a sure sign the trainee recruitment model needs to be urgently reassessed.

In 2011/12 4,869 training contracts were registered by the Law Society compared with 5,441 in 2010/11 and 6,303 in 2006/07. The current figure is 16 per cent lower than pre-2008 numbers.

The figures, reported in the Law Society’s Annual Statistics Report, reveal that the number of training contracts is, in fact, barely higher than when records began in 1998. In 1998/99 4,827 training contracts were registered.

The Lawyer revealed last month that firms are spending big on trainee recruitment, only to see that investment flop as trainees walk out the door. Calculations based on 2012/13 cohorts show Allen & Overy, for example, wasted £2.8m of the £11.1m it spent on its trainee scheme including the LPC course fee, maintenance grants and first and second-year salaries. This is on the basis of 28 of its 111 trainees not being retained after spending £100,000 on each one.

Notebook Graph 270513

Little wonder then that the number of contracts are falling, as firms look to lock value back in.

The message is not filtering through to students, however, and despite a huge hike in tuition fees the number accepted to study law rose by 5.5 per cent from 2011 to 2012. On top of that, 60 per cent graduated with a first or a 2:1, up from just over half a decade ago. Are university admissions processes out of sync with law firm recruitment techniques?

One reader suggests law schools should not let students take the LPC without a training contract. Another goes so far as to suggest that “the Law Society should be lobbying for a statutory limit on the number of LPC places.”

A noble sentiment, but one we suspect won’t go down so well with free-market legal educators. The education market may have changed beyond recognition in the past decade and a half, but the legal market is dragging its heels when it comes to trainees, make no mistake.