Accutrainee: Revolution postponed

At the time of its launch Accutrainee was described as a revolutionary change to the training model. Has it proved to be so? Not really.

Among the 550 or so trainees who qualified as solicitors this spring, Flora Hussey and Simon Latham were quite unusual. The duo became the first people to qualify via Accutrainee.

Launched in 2011, the business allows its trainees to qualify as solicitors by sending them out to complete seats at different firms. The idea is that it makes training more attractive and commercially viable to firms and in-house legal departments while providing more opportunities for graduates.

Despite over 400 graduates signing up in the first few months of business, Latham and Hussey are so far the only Accutrainees to complete their training contracts. There are at least six more currently close behind them, but this hardly represents a revolution in the marketplace. 

New businesses take time to flourish of course, especially ones based around the slow-moving trainee recruitment cycle, and it would be churlish to ignore Accutrainee’s achievements: as founder Susan Cooper has pointed out, it has provided training for a group of graduates who might not otherwise have got it.

In particular, the organisation has had success placing candidates with boutique firms and in-house departments that don’t necessarily want a regular trainee intake (Latham and Hussey have taken up NQ roles at US litigation boutique Hausfeld & Co and private client practice New Quadrant Partners respectively).

However, the larger firms have yet to climb aboard: to date, Olswang is the only big name known to have signed up with Accutrainee. In large part that can be ascribed to economic conditions: until recently most of the large firms have had too many trainees. The last thing they wanted to do was take on more, even on a short-term basis.

The situation has changed, however. The economy is picking up, there’s more work to go around, and having cut numbers firms may soon have too few trainees (Allen & Overy, for example, has slashed its annual intake down to 90 from pre-recession highs of 120).

But will firms want to recruit in such large numbers again? A lot has changed since 2008: firms are more cautious for starters, but the effect of the Legal Services Act, apprenticeships, outsourcing and more suggests that large, inflexible trainee intakes may not be the future.

In short, these are the conditions where Accutrainee should thrive. If wants to step up to the next level, the next year or two is the time to do it.