Posted Sep 01, 2012 07:20 am CDT
In July 2011, nearly 2,900 first-time would-be lawyers sat for the Florida bar exam. More than 2,300 of those test-takers were licensed that September. And there’s one thing estates and trusts lawyer Laird A. Lile was certain of: There were not enough jobs in the state for all of them. A solo practitioner for more than 15 years and a lawyer since 1984, Lile often employed legal assistants at his firm in Naples and had enough work to sustain a new attorney. But like many employers, he found the interview process tedious and cumbersome.
Surely, with the flood of new lawyers every year, he thought, someone had created a residence program similar to the training regime of medical students to provide recent graduates with basic lawyering skills and greater business savvy.
When his research and conversations with fellow bar members only revealed congratulations for a great, not-yet-implemented idea, last year Lile created his own program.
Resident at Law is an 18-month opportunity for a recent law school graduate to receive in-depth training in a specific legal area before entering the profession in a traditional practice role such as associate or solo.
“Law firms have clinics and extern programs, but we really don’t have a formalized system similar to medical students for taking graduates and transitioning them from the classroom to practice,” says Lile, a member of the Florida Bar board of governors. “Lawyers say, ‘Have at it; go practice.’ But we as a profession haven’t done anything to really help them practice.”
Lile’s first resident, Patrick F. Mize, a May 2011 graduate of the University of Florida’s law school, receives a $4,000 monthly stipend—a figure purposefully on par with entry-level state government lawyer salaries. Lile’s firm also pays costs associated with attending local and state bar meetings (a requirement to help build the resident’s business and mentor network) and provides professional negligence insurance.
“I’m learning a ton of practical information,” Mize says, “but there’s also a large focus on the business end of the practice.”
Though Mize’s hourly billing requirement is nonexistent, he is required to devote 50 to 60 hours a week to client projects, bar events and other professional activities.
And while Lile doesn’t bill clients for Mize to sit in on meetings or mediation proceedings, he does charge for research at the same rate historically billed for a legal assistant. Under this arrangement, the firm only needs to collect for about 20 percent of Mize’s time to break even—an easily met figure that justifies the resident’s financial benefit to the firm.
This fall, having contacted state law schools to get applicants, Lile will take on a second resident since Mize’s program ends in February. The overlap will provide a smooth transition between residents because Mize will help train the new resident.
As more new law grads seek employment at small firms or launch solo practices right out of school, Paige Greenlee, president of the Florida Bar’s Young Lawyer’s Division, hopes more programs like Lile’s will aid their career prospects.
To that end, the Florida Bar YLD is implementing a marketing campaign in conjunction with Lile and other bar members to encourage more resident-at-law programs across the state.
“It’s important that this message comes from the bar at large,” Greenlee notes, “and not just the Young Lawyer’s Division.”