Law Practice Management

Law Firm Apprenticeships Could Cause Recruiting Problems, Critics Say

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Clients may like the new apprenticeship programs being tried by a few law firms, but associates taking a pay cut to participate may not be as enthusiastic.

Carter Phillips, managing partner of Sidley Austin’s Washington, D.C., office, tells the National Law Journal that law students interviewing for jobs may be unwilling to give up the money. “If you’re a top-flight law student and you talk to one firm offering $80,000 or $100,000 to take extra classes and then you talk to another firm offering $160,000 to do work you can bill to a client, I don’t see that as much of a choice,” he said.

Howrey managing partner Robert Ruyak disagrees. His firm announced last week that associates participating in its new apprenticeship program will earn $100,000 the first year and $125,000 the next year, along with a $25,000 bonuses to start and another $25,000 to complete the training. The firm is hiring 20 associates to participate, down from 27 the previous year. During the two-year training period, they will attend classes, shadow partners and get additional experience from pro bono work or secondments to clients.

Ruyak says the program will keep new associates away from the grunt work of document review, which will be handled by staff attorneys. Associates will do less client work during their training, and when they do handle client matters, it may not be billed to the clients. “The old model is broken,” he told the NLJ.

Other law firms that have or are adopting apprentice programs include Drinker Biddle & Reath of Philadelphia; labor law firm Ford & Harrison; Frost Brown Todd, with offices in Ohio and Kentucky; and Strasburger & Price in Dallas.

Howrey expects the apprentice program to cost between $3 million and $4 million, including lost billable hours and training costs, the NLJ says. But the firm’s first-year salary costs will drop from $4.16 million to $2.5 million.

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