Clifford Chance is to reduce its trainee numbers by 20 per cent from September 2018.
The firm currently recruits ‘up to 100’ per year, but confirmed that it is set to reduce that to ‘up to 80’ per year, or 40 every six months.
The firm last slashed its intake in 2012, when it confirmed that it would cut numbers for 2015 from up to 120 to a maximum of 100.
In August 2015, London managing partner David Bickerton said the firm wanted to recruit ten more trainees to cope with the increase in work the firm was experiencing but official firm policy was not changed.
Trainee numbers across the magic circle have dropped considerably since the recession. Allen & Overy’s autumn 2016 qualifying cohort of 42 was that firm’s smallest in years, and down from 66 in spring 2010 (see chart, below).
Clifford Chance’s numbers have dropped from a high of 74 qualifiers in autumn 2010 to 49 in the last qualification round, while Linklaters had 69 qualifiers in autumn 2010 and 54 last spring.
Meanwhile, Freshfields had just 38 qualifiers in spring 2016, down from 50 in spring 2010.
The decreasing cohort sizes do seem to have had a positive effect on trainee retention. In the seven qualification rounds between spring 2010 and spring 2013, the four magic firms (minus Slaughter and May, which has always recruited fewer trainees) posted retention under the 80 per cent mark on nine occasions between them.
In the seven subsequent qualification rounds between autumn 2013 and autumn 2016, the four firms fell below 80 per cent retention on only two occasions in total.
No magic circle firm has recorded under 80 per cent retention since Cliffod Chance in autumn 2014.
While the magic circle is downsizing, other firms have been upping trainee numbers in recent years. Macfarlanes has increased the number it recruits from 25 to between 27 and 30.
Burges Salmon is also looking to recruit “up to 30” trainees, Trowers & Hamlins is growing its intake from 20 to 23, while several US firms, including Shearman & Sterling and Latham & Watkins, have boosted numbers.