Several top U.K. law firms are forging ahead with their 2020 trainee intakes while several mid-tier firms have deferred theirs amid the lockdown disruption.
Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May all confirmed they are not currently planning to defer their incoming trainees.
Freshfields has trainees joining in August, while Slaughters, Linklaters and Clifford Chance will welcome trainees in the autumn.
A person at Freshfields suggested that the high volume of trainees may have contributed to the decision not to defer trainees, with over 70 joining in August and February.
The decisions are in contrast to moves at DWF and Irwin Mitchell, which are among those delaying their August intakes till February 2021.
DWF has informed all 31 incoming trainees of the new plans. The firm’s training principal, Carl Graham, said the delay will “allow the business time to return to regular work patterns and to adapt our training programme to ensure we prepare future trainees for the new ways of working”.
Irwin Mitchell added that a February start will “protect our colleagues, the business and allow us to invest in the right level of talent at the right time”.
In addition, Squire Patton Boggs and AIM-listed Gateley said they are still in the discussion stages with no final decision yet made.
Not all mid-tier firms are taking such steps. Shoosmiths and Eversheds Sutherland, which are welcoming 27 and 44 trainees respectively in September, are going ahead with their 2020 training contracts.
An Eversheds spokesperson said they will go ahead because “our trainees are a vital future pipeline of talent”.
Pinsent Masons is also opting not to defer its trainees and is instead designing a “virtual induction process”, according to the firm’s head of early talent Deborah McCormack.
The virtual induction will include “elements you would expect from a traditional induction”, such as networking training and an introduction to the firm’s purpose and mental health and wellbeing sessions.
“It’s critical that we take these steps now to safeguard early talent and ensure our junior colleagues aren’t disproportionately affected by the economic impact of the pandemic”, McCormack added.
The questions around trainee intakes comes as law firms continue to grapple with business changes stemming from the impact of COVID-19. Slaughters, Allen & Overy, Baker McKenzie and Travers Smith, among several others, are hosting their vacation schemes online.
Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells joined some firms in cancelling their vacation schemes altogether.
One London-based private equity partner said that if he was an incoming trainee at a firm who are continuing with its August intake, he would ask to defer in favour of increased client exposure during deals.
“First seat training is all about face to face transactions”, he said. “It’s also hard to induce a trainee when you’ve not met”.
However, the partner does point to the high demand for trainees currently given how busy firms are, noting it would be “odd” for large firms to defer them.