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To Defer or Not to Defer? Like a Day Off, Late Job Start May Not Be a Career Plus

Posted Apr 30, 2009 12:31 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The disastrous economy is creating new career issues for fledgling legal eagles seeking to soar as law firm associates. But the overall problem is still the same: How to look out for one's own interests yet score points with the firm as a dedicated young attorney ready, willing and able to put his or her all into the job.

How to resolve that conundrum isn't clear for a growing number of third-year law students offered an opportunity to take a year or more to work with a nonprofit agency or even simply vacation with pay after graduation, rather than start on schedule as first-year associates this fall.

Fearing that they could be laid off from their new jobs if law firms continue to have too many attorneys to handle a reduced workload, 3Ls might think it best to volunteer for a deferral. Lasting anywhere from a few months to over a year, a deferral would allow them a chance to start work after the economy, they hope, has improved. Meanwhile, many who volunteer for BigLaw deferrals are paid, albeit at a lower rate than they would be as associates, recounts the American Lawyer.

But, on the other hand, would they be more likely layoff targets if they start later than their classmates, thus losing out on law firm experience and mentoring relationships with colleagues at the firm?

"Nobody knows the answers," says Susan Guindi, an assistant dean for career services at the University of Michigan Law School. "Is it riskier to be away from the office, and not establish the connections, or are they more likely to get laid off if they go directly to the firms, but do not have enough work to do?"

For those already working as associates, a common concern is how to take a vacation without seeming to be a highly paid slacker, writes the Snark in the Fulton County Daily Report.

The answer, the anonymous columnist advises, is to pick a day when little work is anticipated and key partners aren't likely to be looking for you. Then simply don't come into the office, yet monitor all messages closely. Make sure your BlackBerry is at hand and fully charged, and have your e-mail forwarded there.

"As long as you respond to e-mails and voicemails and take no more than two non-consecutive skip days per year, you should be fine," the Snark writes. "You also should keep a suit handy and be prepared to be in the office within an hour, if required."

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Career Confusion for 140 NYU 3Ls Deferred By Fall Employers"

Boston Globe: "For law graduates, a public-service detour on road to success"

Legal Intelligencer: "Law Schools, Public Interest Agencies Deal With Consequences of Deferrals"

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