THE NUMBER of trainees being kept on by the UK’s top 50 firms has dropped by nearly 150, despite law firms saying they are in desperate need of associates.

The average retention rate in the top 50 firms was 81.2 per cent in September 2006, compared with 85.2 per cent in 2005. Almost half of all firms recorded a retention rate lower than average, with Nabarro Nathanson keeping on just 8 (47 per cent) of its 17 September qualifiers – dropping from 84.2 per cent the previous year.

Nabarros’ graduate resources manager Jane Drew said: “This has been a very unusual year. We usually retain 85 to 90 per cent of our trainees. This year, of the nine that went, five wanted to qualify into employment but there was no business need for newly qualifieds. All of the five were offered alternatives in other areas, but chose to go elsewhere
as they wanted to practise employment law.”

Osborne Clarke saw the biggest drop in retention rate between 2005 and 2006, retaining only 61.1 per cent of its trainees this year compared with 100 per cent in 2005.

Managing partner Simon Beswick told Lawyer 2B: “It’s because a whole rack of them wanted to do commercial work,
and we didn’t have the opportunities in that space. I think
most of them have found jobs elsewhere, if not all.”

Beswick added that Osborne Clarke had more vacancies than trainees and had offered jobs to all its September qualifiers.

Just three firms kept on all of their qualifying trainees. Halliwells, Macfarlanes and Trowers & Hamlins had high retention rates in 2005 and improved to 100 per cent in 2006.

Macfarlanes graduate recruitment manager Louise Hatton explained: “We recruit trainees with the aim of keeping everyone on after qualification. We’re quite painstaking in ensuring that consideration is given to the trainee’s career development.”

Beachcroft, Salans and Field Fisher Waterhouse, all of which
kept on all of their 2005 qualifiers, each bid farewell to one trainee this year.

Withers saw the highest increase in trainee retention,
keeping on 12 of its 13 September qualifiers in 2006 compared with only nine in 2005.