Linklaters has sparked a student scramble by offering 30 future trainees a £14,250 lump sum if they defer for a year

Initial feedback suggests the programme has been oversubscribed, but corporate partner Charlie Jacobs, who is responsible for graduate recruitment, said the places will be allocated strictly on a first-come, first-served basis.

The magic circle firm, which is deferring 15 trainees from its September 2003 intake and a further 15 from its March 2004 intake, has raised the stakes in the deferral game by offering the students a stressfree year out on half salary.

Last July accountancy-tied firm KLegal offered trainees £10,000 for a year out. This sum was originally lowered to £2,500 for the students deferred in November, although this package has since been substantially improved. Top 10 firm Norton Rose has also offered 20 future lawyers a £10,000 package for a 12-month break.

Jacobs said Linklaters still plans to recruit 125 trainees as usual this year and is “confident” that the firm's level of work will have recovered sufficiently by next year to allow the first batch of deferred trainees to start work.

He added: “Our level of business has dropped and we will not be able to give the trainees the best practical experience on deals. [We feel] they would have a better level of training if they come back to us when the market picks up. We're simply being honest and open with our employees.”