Clifford Chance will retain 78% of its trainees this autumn, down from 87% last year in the latest indication that large City practices expect to tighten their belts in the wake of the pandemic. Of the magic circle firm’s 46 trainees, 36 will be kept on as newly-qualified associates, compared with 41 out of 47 in July 2019. 

Associate intake at Clifford Chance dipped at the start of 2020 when the firm announced its smallest spring cohort of NQs for several years. Just 34 trainees were kept on in the firm's spring retention round, down from 46 in January 2019.

This autumn's NQs will also receive lower pay than their predecessors. Total compensation has been reduced to £94,500 including bonuses down from £100,000, following a salary rise last summer. 

However City-headquartered RPC appears to be taking a more bullish position, announcing a retention rate of 92%, with 11 of its 12 trainees securing NQ roles. One trainee did not apply.

RPC partner and training principal Simon Hart said: ‘We have always tried to make our qualification decisions based on the longer-term view of the needs of the business. That was very much the case this year. We have a very strong group of trainees qualifying in September and it is testament to their quality and commitment over the last two years that every single one of the eleven trainees who applied was offered and accepted a permanent role with the firm.’

Tony Williams, principal of legal consultancy Jomati and former managing partner at Clifford Chance, warned that the pandemic has made the job market ‘much more uncertain’.

‘Retention rates of trainees qualifying in September will vary significantly between firms but in general firms are likely to be more selective as to those that they keep on,’ he said.