Magic circle firm Clifford Chance has taken on just 34 newly qualified trainees in its spring retention round, its smallest cohort of new associates for several years.

All 40 of the firm’s trainees applied to become associates and 34 (85%) received and accepted offers. Retention is slightly down on last year, which saw a spring retention rate of 90% and an autumn retention rate of 87%.

The associate cohort is also significantly smaller than last year, when 46 trainees were kept on in the spring and 41 were retained in the autumn. In 2018 a total of 80 trainees progressed to become associates.

City firms have faced pressure to increase associate pay in recent months. Last June, Clifford Chance raised its total pay package for newly qualified associates to £100,000, up from £91,000. Slaughter and May, which also boosted NQ pay to £100,000 last year, has now increased the salaries of those with two and a half years post-qualified experience (PQE) or more.

The practice confirmed that associates in the 2.5 PQE salary scale and above will receive a salary increase of between 2.2% and 8.2% with effect from this month. ‘This ensures that we remain competitive in the marketplace at all levels of associate remuneration,’ a spokesperson for the firm said.

Associates also received a bonus for 2019 ranging from 8.7% to 14.6%, in line with 2018.