Simmons & Simmons has refused to disclose how many of its qualifying trainees are joining the firm on fixed term contracts, citing unspecified "privacy reasons".

This week the firm announced a decent 80% trainee retention rate. It said 12 out of the 15 trainees in its spring-qualifying cohort accepted offers from the firm and were "staying on as NQs". Graduate recruitment partner Devarshi Saksena said, “We are pleased with the March 2017 results and I’d like to congratulate everyone on their qualification. Trainee development is an important part of the strategy of the firm and we’re receiving great feedback on our new Skills Academy”.

It follows a string of poor trainee retention results which identified Simmons & Simmons as an unattractive destination for students seeking a post-qualification career: a dozen of last autumn's qualifiers, half the intake, were not retained. In spring 2016, six left out of 13, and it was only marginally better in autumn 2015, when 18 stayed but 10 were not retained.

However, a source told RollOnFriday that the 80% retention rate announced this spring is a sham. Several of this spring's qualifying trainees are, they said, only joining the firm on six month fixed term contracts. "Sly" Simmons made the offers "just to boost their retention rate".  

Simmons & Simmons did not mention fixed term contracts in its announcement, and when pressed by RollOnFriday a spokeswoman refused to disclose how many, if any, of its qualifying trainees were being employed on fixed term contracts. She said that the firm could not provide an answer "due to employee privacy reasons", but would not state what the reasons were. 

Simmons has form when it comes to massaging woeful trainee retention figures. In spring 2016 RollOnFriday revealed that the firm had misled the market by claiming a 77% trainee retention rate, when in fact it was 54%. Simmons had secretly discounted from its figures four trainees who had decided to leave the firm.

FTCs can function as an entirely benign instrument for firms to continue to employ good trainees when their departments of choice are under-worked, often in the mutual hope that demand will increase sufficiently to require their long-term services in a few months. However, when their use is not disclosed, it can appear as if the firm is seeking to paint a healthier picture of post-qualification career prospects than the reality.

Simmons & Simmons' apparent deception is important because students rely on firms' trainee retention figures to help them assess whether a firm is likely to employ them beyond their training contract. Omitting to disclose that a proportion of NQs are employed on a short-term basis presents a misleading impression of NQ prospects. As in 2015, anyone taking Simmons at its word today is potentially basing one of the most important career decisions of their life on a false presumption.

Pretty much every firm discloses the number of qualifiers on FTCs to RollOnFriday as a matter of course. The remainder provide them on request. None has hidden them, refused to acknowledge their existence when prompted, then cited (unique in the market) "privacy reasons".