For Some Associates, Work is Slow, Delayed or Nonexistent

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Associates at big law firms were flying high last year when starting salaries skyrocketed to $160,000. Now some are in for a bumpy ride.

This year, some law firms are cutting expenses by laying off associates, delaying their start dates or shortening their summer associate programs, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. Associates seeking to change jobs are also hard-hit by the economic downturn.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman has cut its summer associate program in some offices from 12 weeks to 10 and staggered the start dates for its new associates over several months beginning in September, the newspaper says. Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal went so far as to rescind job offers for two summer associates and two first-years in Charlotte, N.C., an office that did a lot of mortgage securitization work.

Another firm, Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner, also cut its summer associate program and delayed the start date for new associates. The action comes after the firm cut 26 associates.

Some lawyers who are still working have less to do. Law firm consultant James Jones of Hildebrandt International said some partners may seek to maintain their own productivity by hoarding work usually done by associates. He advises law firms to discourage the practice by encouraging more business development work.

An associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges told the newspaper that things are slow. “I come to work and expect 12-hour days, and it’s just not happening,” the associate said. “I’m going to the gym a lot, but frankly, I’m a little bored.”

Stephen Dannhauser, Weil Gotshal’s chairman, said a few associates who work in areas that have seen a downturn may have fewer billable hours. But most have plenty to do.

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