What is undertaking a training contract during a recession like?

In light of today's announcement and warning by the BoE, interested to hear experiences from the last recession post-2008, and how it affected workload and retention prospects...

The tc was fine as they can’t get rid of you (although you might be sent on secondment if the dept you are in ceases to exist). The tricky bit comes when you qualify…

I sincerely hope it won’t be anything like as bad as 2008-11 for NQs

Out of interest (and fear the same might happen now), how much did trainee retention drop? Hoping that as I'm starting TC next month that it'll mostly improve by 2024...

Fine by 24.

It was great for me. I was cheap and had a permanent contract (nobody makes trainees redundant really). I was on the golf course by 3pm most days and gym/swim before arriving at 10am.

It was however very very boring!


If it gets bad they might try to defer the start of your TC in return for a few grand and/or a job parablozzing for a year or two

Recall mine being super busy as they binned off all the mid level associates so there was loads of work for us to do.  Retention was fine for our intake as a result.


Some practice areas stay super-busy. Restructuring & Insolvency obv, litigation, PE often busy because counter-cyclical investing makes for some good value realisation when markets are better.

ECM and public M&A tend to be busy in boom times and reasonably busy (with desperate rescues and bargain-hunting bottom feeders on the M&A side) in bust times, but the periods between big boom and deep bust - like now - where the markets hold their breath and investors sit on cash waiting for things to adjust or when recovering on the upswing again but confidence still fragile tend to be quieter.

DCM and hi-yield broadly gets busier before ECM fully recovers.

Agree it’s not a bad time to be doing one’s TC and qualifying when you’re still pretty cheap labour. Less good to be 5PQE+ and quiet. Esp if practice area looks like staying quiet for some time.

I did a lot of security reviews and a lot of amend and pretends. I qualified in 2012 and it was a bit brutal, ngl. People were talking about green shoots for years before they came. 

Still, we got through. 

firstly it’s hard to call how a recession will hit the city

this isn’t a liquidity crunch - look at latest bank numbers - institutions have loads of cash

riskier and highly levered deal work may slow but borrowers who are viable will be able to get refi’d - v different to 2008

we actualky haven’t had a proper, real economy  recession since 1992

The thing about the GFC was the last quarter of 2008 and the first 2-3 quarters of 2009 were slow as. Across the board.

And then q4 2009 through to mid-late 2011 was mental busy with IPOs on the recovery uptick but also rescue rights issues and placings/open offers etc (for builders, builders merchants and real estate businesses as well as for banks etc).

2012 was flat before 2013/14 became very busy again.

This is nothing like the GFC. Just a standard 1-2 year dip where they will just not take as many trainees and drop retention and then bitch about lack of decent mid-levels in 5 years. 

The reason they are having to pay mega for useless NQs at the moment is they hollowed out qualifier supply post GFC and this is the first boom where a surplus of 3-7 PQE would have been mighty handy, but instead Gimplord, Fister & Spunk have to scrabble to pull trainees away from places with semi-decent training so they can cut & paste prior deals 24/7. 

Tend to agree, bananaman

GFC was just total vacuum of any kind of deals for 3-4 solid quarters because even the bankruptcy and restructuring and litigation weren’t compensating because no one wanted to pull the plug on businesses and incur the hit on the debt so it was just a total phoney trading period.

Very weird.


I graduated in 1982 into the worst unemployed (much worse than now) in FIFTY years as at 1982. 3 m were out of work. My trainee pay in London was £6250 a year (about £20k in today's money ie half what trainees get now). It was fine. The economy goes up and down over the decades. I think trainees tend to do okay once they have a training contract as it is hard to sack them so at least they have 2 years of security.

Wot Lydia sed - we rode the wave of Big Bang and the Thatcher boom which was just round the corner. 

Yeah, but Thatcher got inflation under control before she cut taxes and deregulated, right, OGR?

The economy was already growing/recovering post-‘83 to allow her to do that.

We’re not there yet.

That wasn’t the question. 

Fair to say that during recessions trainees are more worried about being offered a job on qualification and tend to get their heads down and work harder. I saw about four economic cycles during my career and that always happened 

Yep, that's my thinking. Historically, the firm I'm joining has a very good retention rate (partially because it has a small intake), but am thinking that I may have to work harder (and longer) to be confident of being retained. 

If you’re just starting a TC now, chances are the world is going to look quite different in 2 years anyway (and recession in the “real” economy in the UK doesn’t always mean City law firms are not incredibly busy places).

Focus on paying attention, being smart, responsive and enthusiastic and fun and reliable to work with and regardless of physical hours at the coalface, you’ll be in good shape.

Trainees and junior lawyers are cheap labour. 5-7 PQE lawyers are expensive and if they’re not on the partner track, they’re not assets firms will invest in and are the first that will be offered voluntary (or not so voluntary) redundancy programmes and the work will get pushed down (because let’s face it, the partners are going to be working f.ucking hard chasing the smaller volume of transactions that are going around to keep their own heads above water, they’re not going to have time to suck up the work of the 5-7 PQE lawyers they’ll burn off).