Renowned UK law firms such as Slaughter & May, Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, and Clyde & Co have all announced changes to their legal recruitment positions, as internship application season draws closer.

In response to dealing with the financial challenges of the Coronavirus, Linklaters and Allen & Overy have both reduced their salaries for newly qualified( NQ) lawyers by 10%, while Clifford Chance and Slaughter & May have reduced by a slightly over 5%.   Trainee salaries have not been affected.

Freshfield is the only “so-called” magic circle firm to maintain their 2019 NQ salary.

In these unprecedented times, a look back at the 2008 recession might provide some form of an inkling of how firms will manage this time around.

Herbert Smith Freehills and DLA Piper have both decided to offer a deferral payment to trainees for 6-12 months which was a popular measure taken back in the 2008 financial crisis. Clifford Chance has also followed their 2008 precedent to reduce salaries for NQ when they decreased earnings from £66,600 to £59,000.

Firms have opted to reduce pay and downscale their intake to minimise their expenses in preparation for a slow and long term recovery.  Students should expect a competitive application process to become even more challenging.

Additionally, there has been a major decrease in the need for legal aid during the pandemic. Merger and acquisition activity in Ireland has significantly decreased in the last few months due to COVID-19.

William Fry’s Head of Corporate and M&A stated that “2020 is likely to represent one of the lowest, if not the lowest, watermarks in M&A since the global financial crisis”.

The Irish legal firms have all taken various approaches as to how to continue through this uncertain period. Matheson, a distinguished law firm, has remained committed to legal recruitment despite any uncertainties of the future. They have found innovative virtual ways to carry on training students.

For example, Matheson is the first Irish law firm to launch a Virtual Summer Internship Program in collaboration with platform provider, InsideSherpa. This inventive internship attempts to replicate an in-person internship by including assignments and webinars, with all interns paired with a trainee buddy.

After speaking with the Graduate Recruitment Manager at Arthur Cox, the firm has stated that they will not be seeking to reduce the number of trainees or interns recruited. Arthur Cox plans to move their recruitment campaign to be entirely online in the form of virtual career fairs and all interviews will be done via Zoom until further notice.

Any successful candidates from 2020/2021 applications, “will not begin their training contracts until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest”.  The firm is taking a quick response to be able to continue engaging with students and to convey their message.

The Director of Human Resources and People Development at McCann Fitzgerald said that while dealing with these unprecedented times, the firm is currently assessing their recruitment needs.  She said that their trainee programme is a vital part of their recruitment and updates on the trainee programme will be posted on McCann Fitzgerald’s website in the coming months. The firm will be taking part in virtual career fairs through the fall and are looking forward to engaging with students again.

With this in mind, McCann Fitzgerald and William Fry both have imposed pay cuts on their lawyers while Arthur Cox did away with bonuses for this year. The firm has said this is a temporary measure to “protect all jobs”.

McCann recently completed a shortened Summer Intern Programme virtually, in which UCD  third year Law Student, Joseph Boyle participated. “There was clearly a lot of work put into the tech side of the experience. It provided good insight to the firm,” Boyle said.

However, he also added that he would not be likely to base his decision to work for the firm based on the virtual experience and that he did not get a good sense of the complexity of the work done at McCann Fitzgerald.

Boyle found the three-day internships to be “glossed up” and to be “sugar-coating the legal industry”. Overall he deemed the experience to be worthwhile and an opportunity to develop new skills, despite the virtual aspect.

On an uplifting note, Maples Group has continued to hire at all levels even through the pandemic. The firm is welcoming its new group of trainees this August, as they would normally, and held a virtual summer internship program which resulted in training contract offers given out.

An intern for Maples explained that their experience was fantastic. “Maples truly helped the interns feel well-integrated into the firm” and deliver “a true sense of the values of the firm,” they said.

With all the uncertainty ahead, the Irish Legal firms must be watched closely for the changes they intend to make, as they will unavoidably affect law student’s futures.

Lauren Walsh – Law Writer