Law Practice Management

Law School Rank and Class Year Take Back Seat to Practical Skills in 2010


Associate level distinctions and compensation based on class year, a standard at lockstep firms, are quickly being eliminated as more law firms move toward classifying lawyers by skill sets and career tracks.

As associates progress, they will be put into “buckets” or skill categories at firms more focused on advancing lawyers based on abilities rather than class year, predicts one legal recruiter.

“Firms are going to focus on what lawyers can actually do as opposed to what they should be doing at a particular level, class year or school they are coming from,” Beth Woods, managing director at legal recruiter Major Lindsey & Africa, told the ABA Journal.

While the transition is good news for industry experts opposed to the lockstep model and clients unhappy with high billable rates for unskilled associates, Woods cautions that change won’t happen overnight.

“Firms are loath and slow to change, and the ones at the top will still look at school ranks and grades,” Woods says. “But there will be opportunities at the middle tier for lawyers that are selling on a practical level to really succeed.”

Also, even though some firms have cut starting salaries, Woods says associates at firms that have adapted new training models may be more marketable and ultimately have greater earning potential. The same distinction may also give an advantage to law students at schools that offer practical training outside the classroom.

“The truly interesting thing will be what their value is in the marketplace in three years or so compared to those at firms that didn’t change their training program,” Woods says.

Also see:

ABAJournal.com: “Washington & Lee’s 3Ls Learn in-the-Trenches Practice”

ABAJournal.com: “Drinker Biddle Lays Off 22 Associates, Plans to Eliminate Lockstep”

ABAJournal.com: “Sonnenschein Sets New 3-Tier Pay Plan for Associates, Confirms Staff Layoffs”

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