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Will Career Associate Programs Cause Resentment? At Orrick, Lawyers Cite the Benefits

Posted May 24, 2011 6:52 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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David Perry, a 2009 Northwestern law grad, has $150,000 in law school debt and a lower paying career associate job at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Perry, 37, tells the New York Times he’s satisfied. He landed the job after trying without success to find public service work. Now he says his “lifestyle” job offers interesting work and a chance to work from home. “I didn’t have the strong desire to make loads of cash,” he said.

Perry works with 36 other career associates at Orrick, one of a handful of law firms with such positions. Others include WilmerHale and McDermott Will & Emery. Pay for career associates often ranges from $50,000 to $65,000, according to outsourcing consultant Michael Bell of Fronterion. On the plus side, the jobs require less travel and fewer hours.

These jobs are distinct from staff attorneys, a long-time staple of some law firms, Orrick leaders told the Times.

Orrick chairman Ralph Baxter emphasizes that such associates are valued. “There are no second-class citizens at Orrick,” he told the Times. “This is a career path for people who want it because they prefer the attributes.” Other career associates at the firm interviewed by the Times also spoke of the benefits of the job that includes work such as writing briefs, visiting client worksites and preparing witnesses for trial.

But the newspaper sees possible morale issues. “A two-tier system threatens to breed resentments among workers in both tiers, given disparities in pay and workload expectations,” the Times says. “And as these programs expand to more and more firms, they will eliminate many of the lucrative partner-track positions for which law students suffer so much debt.”

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