Law Firms

Milbank Spends $5.8M a Year on Biz-School Classes, Finds ‘Retention Sweet Spot’

Is Milbank Tweed’s plan to send its midlevel associates to Harvard for eight weeks of intensive business training just another public relations maneuver?

Indiana University law school professor William Henderson doesn’t think so. The law firm is spending about $5.8 million a year in expenses and lost billable hours to educate about 150 associates each year in an effort dubbed Milbank@Harvard, he writes for the American Lawyer. The program begins in associates’ third year and continues through their seventh year, until they have obtained the functional equivalent of an executive MBA degree.

“Milbank has likely identified a retention sweet spot,” Henderson writes. He notes that experienced junior associates are in short supply because of hiring cutbacks during the recession, making them a hot commodity in the lateral market. Associates are likely to value the training and may be more likely to stick around, given the results of a survey of lawyers who graduated in the year 2000. Sixty percent said they wished they had received more business training in law school; the number increased to 74 percent for those working in firms of more than 250 lawyers.

But retention isn’t necessarily the goal in later years, as law firms increasingly restrict the number of equity partnership promotions. Better trained associates are more likely to find in-house jobs, Henderson says, and everyone benefits. For law firms, “the enhanced outplacement reduces the pressure to grow the partnership while also improving relationships with major clients.”

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