Trainee retention rates at top UK law firms see continued recovery

Trainee retention rates at UK law firms are continuing to recover after increasing for the second consecutive year, according to a new survey of 123 commercial law firms.

The research, conducted by the Chambers Student Guide, shows that 80.5% of 2,253 newly-qualified (NQ) lawyers at the firms surveyed were retained after qualification.

This year’s percentage is up 4% on last year, when 76% of 2,626 NQ lawyers were retained, after 74% of a comparable group were kept on in 2009.

The new figures appear to mark a return to pre-recession levels, although the report notes that because many firms deferred the start dates of trainees in 2009, the qualifying class of 2011 is by far the smallest in recent years – down by more than 400 on 2010.

Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (RPC) (pictured) and DWF were among the best-performing firms last year, retaining 100% of their NQ intake, while Berwin Leighton Paisner gave jobs to 40 of its 41 trainees.

RPC managing partner Jonathan Watmough said: “Trainees at RPC follow a very broad and in-depth training and development programme throughout their contracts, not just in the law but in business, too. It’s testament to the quality of our programme and the quality of our trainees that this year we were able to offer positions to the full intake.”

The statistics also suggest that larger firms have made a stronger recovery from the economic downturn, as those with a greater number of qualifying lawyers boasted the highest retention rates.

Retention rates for firms with 26 or more qualifiers stood at 83%, dropping to 77% for practices with 11-25 trainees and 75% for firms that took on ten or fewer candidates.

Mills & Reeve and Dickinson Dees were among those to record the lowest retention rates, keeping on just 36% of their trainees apiece.

A sharp dip in retention rates in 2009 signalled the effect of the economic crisis on the legal sector, with just 74% of trainees retained across the surveyed firms year, down from 82% in 2008.