Policy change promised after law trainees sacked by voice mail

The HR chief at the international law firm which left phone messages telling trainee solicitors they were being sacked has vowed to change the company’s policy.

Kevin Hogarth, global HR director at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said he regretted that some trainees learned they were not being retained after HR managers left messages on their answering machines that said: “It’s not good news, but give us a call”.

Only 34 out of 48 solicitors on a two-year internship with the firm were offered permanent jobs because of the effects of the recession. Many were told face-to-face that they would not be kept on, but some were unavailable, despite repeated attempts by the graduate recruitment team in charge of the internships to contact them.

“Members of the HR team left messages, and by the tone of the messages and the words chosen, it was pretty clear that when the trainee solicitors did eventually get in contact, it would not be good news,” Hogarth told Personnel Today. “But in hindsight, leaving an answer-phone message was not a good judgement call by the team involved.

“We wouldn’t choose to do it this way again, so we’re looking at updating our policy to find the most effective way to deliver news to staff about the outcome as soon as possible.”

Hogarth said the department had been placed in a difficult position where on the one hand rumours could circulate the longer it took to track down and inform the solicitors, and on the other the company would appear cold in its manner of informing trainees, albeit in a timely manner.

“We were trying to balance competing concerns of speaking to trainees promptly so they heard the news through official channels instead of finding out the hard way,” he added.

Many trainees are seconded out to clients working in their offices, both in the UK and internationally, but Hogarth ruled out sending HR representatives to those workplaces to ensure the news is broken face-to-face.

The firm employs more than 2,400 lawyers in 28 offices around the world.

Up to 10,000 legal jobs could be lost in the next two years, amounting to more than one in 10 of the country’s 83,000 privately employed solicitors, senior legal figures have warned.

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