Leading firms in England and Wales retained 79% of their trainees once they had qualified in 2012, new figures reveal.

The Chambers Student guide surveyed 123 mostly commercial firms and found that 2,074 out of 2,620 trainees remained at their first firm.

The figure was a slight drop on 2011 levels but came during a year when the total number of qualifiers rose by 16% as those who had deferred their training during the 2009 recession finally completed the course.

A Chambers spokesman said: ‘The fact that so many trainees have been kept on despite this bulge in the pipeline can only be good news. It appears that firms have finally right-sized themselves at the junior end.’

Firms with more than 26 qualifiers did marginally better in retaining trainees, keeping 80.7%, while those firms with up to 10 qualifiers held onto 74.5%. Firms in London held on to 79.6% of their qualifiers, compared with regional firms which retained 78.2%.

Three firms – Burges Salmon, Shoosmiths and Farrer & Co – retained every one of their trainees, with just two – Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Gateley – losing more than half.

The report emphasises that the majority of firms have good and bad years, although the three leading firms in 2012 have consistently posted excellent retention figures since 2000.

Although retention figures are still high, several firms reported they had more qualifying trainees than jobs available or had not needed as many junior lawyers as they expected when the trainees were hired.