The US firms piling into the trainee market

It’s sunny days for trainees at two American firms this week. Latham & Watkins is keeping on 13 of 14 autumn qualifiers, while all five members of Ropes & Gray’s first-ever intake are staying on NQs – a happy ending for some of the Dewey & LeBoeuf trainees who were cast adrift when that firm collapsed last year.

Latham’s trainee intake has doubled in size since 2008, while Ropes & Gray will also seek to ramp up its number, hiring six trainees in 2014 and then eight to 10 within three years.

That’s good news for graduates, but while Ropes can take inspiration from Latham’s success it should also heed the example of its US peer Orrick.

Like Ropes & Gray, Orrick picked up the trainees of a failed firm – Coudert Brothers – and launched its own training scheme at around the same time. Anticipating rapid growth in London, like Ropes, it quickly upped its trainee recruitment numbers to about eight to 10 per year.

The planned growth didn’t happen, and Orrick’s trainee retention for the last couple of years has been disappointing, to say the least. The firm has said it will look to recruit four or five trainees in future – about the number Ropes & Gray currently has.

Trainees can play a big role in growing small offices, but when recruiting so far in advance there’s a real danger of over-hiring. For Orrick, it was a case of too much, too soon. Ropes will hope for better fortune.

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