Links in radical move to reject over-specialisation

Jill King

Sources at Linklaters said that in a bid to counter damaging over-specialisation the firm is looking to introduce a number of schemes whereby juniors will spend time in different practice areas in the first few years post-­qualification. This will form the core part of each lawyer’s career path. Moving from associate to managing associate would require time spent in other departments, according to sources familiar with the thinking. Corporate associates would therefore have to spend time in finance, and vice versa.

London head of HR Caroline Rawes said: “We’re keen to explore ways of introducing greater flexibility in the experience that our lawyers gain.”

Discussions are currently taking place at board level, with global head of HR Jill King and managing partner Simon Davies said to be driving the move forward.

Although the plans are at an early stage, it is said that one possibility would see junior associates given the opportunity to work across a number of practice areas.

“There was an awareness that people are specialising too early and there’s a desire to see people get a more rounded experience in their early years,” said a senior partner at the firm.

The Linklaters source added that the move should not be seen as a reaction to the economic climate and subsequent shrinking headcount at top firms.

“Big law firms have become more specialised,” he said. “That’s why there are efforts to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Earlier this year, fellow magic circle firm Allen & Overy also examined a less specialised training method for its associates, according to sources close to the firm.

Slaughter and May already operates a system whereby associates in a given practice area spend time in a variety of groups.

Paul Olney, practice partner at Slaughters, said the shift towards more flexible training regimes among the magic circle was inevitable given the changing internal make-up of the firms.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that the emphasis on specialisation, which comes from the over-reliance of firms on certain products, is reduced,” he said.