Pro Bono, Public Interest

Dealing with the Downturn: Simpson Thacher’s Public Service Program

SimpsonThacher.gifHow should law firms respond to the recession? As reflected in the dramatic events of yesterday, which will go down in Biglaw history as the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 2009, lawyer layoffs are a common route.

But there are other options. We recently wrote about how unemployed (or underemployed) lawyers can do pro bono work — a way of enhancing their skills, while serving the public. Now one leading law firm is taking this idea and running with it.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett recently announced a new program of public interest fellowships for their associates. From the memo:

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is pleased to announce a Public Service Fellowship Program which offers associates the opportunity to spend one year working on a public service project of their choosing, supported by a stipend from the Firm, with the option to return to the firm at the Fellowship’s conclusion. The Fellowship Program is designed to enable associates to provide greatly needed assistance, on a full-time basis, to organizations, communities, or individuals in the United States or abroad; encourage associates’ commitment to public service; and advance associates’ own vision of social justice.

One associate is pleased and proud:

I think it’s a creative, win-win solution for the firm, as well as for those of us — meaning, anyone with a paycheck and a pulse — who live in dread of layoffs. The firm saves $100k+ a year and doesn’t have either the spectre of layoffs or gaps in its associate classes when business turns around. It also sends a strong, morale-boosting signal to the associates that the firm is looking to do all it can to avoid laying off attorneys — and is actually willing to spend money to that effect (while, of course, also saving a good deal of money).

The reference to saving money while spending money refers to the stipend. Fellowship recipients receive a lump-sum stipend of $60,000, paid in advance. Yes, this is an upfront expenditure for the firm; but it’s less than the going rate for a first-, second-, or third-year associate.

More details, plus the full memo, after the jump.

From the memo, the key terms of the fellowship:

Associates on Fellowship will be paid a lump sum stipend of $60,000 in advance. Fellowship recipients may earn additional salary or income from an outside source related to your project up to an incremental $60,000. Any amount over $60,000 that the associate is paid as income or stipend from such external source will be deducted from the STB stipend. The Firm will pay the associate’s and his or her family’s health benefits for the duration of the Fellowship as well as long-term disability and life insurance benefits. Other than the stipend and these benefits, the firm will not pay any additional amounts or benefits to associates on Fellowship, including but not limited to cost of living adjustment, vacation time, health club membership, dependent care, moving and transit costs, or other expenses.

Associates on Fellowship will not be considered employees of the firm. They will not have use of the firm’s resources typically available to employees, including, any non-public areas of the Firm’s electronic information or archives, email, blackberry, support services, or Westlaw/Lexis services. When the associate returns to the Firm, those services and resources will be fully restored. Upon return to the Firm, advancement by class year will be determined on a case by case basis and will take into account the nature of the work done during the year and the extent to which it is related to or complements the associate’s professional development at the firm.

Says a source: “This is a brilliant move, and a nice — and forward-thinking — counterbalance to Bloody Thursday.”

The transmittal email for the program description and application, plus a link to the description and application itself (in PDF form), appear below.


From: Katzman, Harlene

Sent: Friday, February 13, 2009 12:36 PM

To: List-Fellowship

Cc: Osnato, Susan; Russell Jr, William T; Crider, Todd

Subject: STB Fellowships – potential placements

I write to follow up on the announcement of STB’s exciting new Public Service Fellowship, which provides associates the opportunity to spend one year away from the Firm working on a public service project of their choice. In case you missed it, details are in the attachment [PDF].

We have identified a number of legal organizations and other employers who would be very happy to host a public interest fellow. Potential opportunities include energy policy, environmental litigation, disability policy, legal services, international human rights, criminal defense, legislative work on the Hill, affirmative and defensive litigation for NYC, appeals, civil rights, discrimination, prisoners rights, and public health, to name a few. Positions are in NY, DC, and California and are a mix of non-litigation and litigation. Additional host organizations, both in the U.S. and abroad, can also be identified.

If you are interested in applying for this fellowship but would like assistance identifying a project or host organization, please come see me if you are in New York, or call me if you are in another office. We are interested in sending some associates to organizations with whom we have partnered on pro bono work in the past and where we know an associate’s professional development would be enhanced. Given STB’s long history of excellence in pro bono work, however, we believe our fellows will be welcome almost anywhere.



Harlene Katzman

Pro Bono Counsel and Director

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

Simpson Thacher Public Service Fellowship Program — 2009 Application

Earlier: Can’t find work? Try working for free volunteering.

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