Red Cross public interest deferral stipend.JPGAs we mentioned earlier today, there is significant variation among firms offering some sort of deferral stipend or public interest externship. Should the money from the firm be contingent upon finding employment in a public interest organization? Should it be paid out monthly or up front? And of course, how much money is on the table.

The difficulty facing firms — and incoming associates who thought they had jobs lined up for the fall — is that management is trying to make the rules up as they go along. Law firms want to be competitive with peer institutions, but each firm has its own bottom line that can’t be ignored.

At the same time, public interest organizations are flush with resumes of highly qualified people who can work for free. But they must also be concerned with the fact that these new recruits likely never wanted to do any public interest work, and will be desperate to go back to their Biglaw jobs (if available) in a year’s time.

And there are still so many options that have not been tried. As one tipster pointed out to us today:

Wouldn’t this be a good time for all these young lawyers to take two years off to serve their country.

You can’t get more “public interest” than serving your country. And if patriotism doesn’t motivate you, just think about how “JAG Corps” will look on your resume when this recession is all over. We’re living in a bizzaro “Hey, you never know” kind of world.

These are all complicated issues, and all of the players seem to be doing the best they can with them. After the jump, we take a look at Ropes & Gray, which is trying to balance the new issues associated with its “new alternatives” program.


Last week, we spoke with some Ropes & Gray sources who were lucky enough to find public interest jobs that would also pay money. They asked if they could accept a public interest salary in addition to Ropes’ New Alternatives program — which is offering $60K for associates who defer for a year. A person they spoke with at the firm initially said it should be fine. But then:

Then 2 days later we were informed … you can’t get paid anything beyond the stipend provided by Ropes.

But after Above the Law contacted Ropes about the apparent discrepancy, a firm spokesperson told us that Ropes would extend the stipend to associates who were otherwise able to secure a paying position. The spokesperson added:

An underlying intent of our New Alternatives Program is to lend a helping hand to nonprofit organizations that are particularly pressed by the current economic environment. That was the rationale behind offering a generous stipend and regular firm benefits. However, if an organization wishes to pay a salary to participating associates from Ropes & Gray, they may accept it.

Should people who are getting paid by their firm also be eligible to take on a salary from their public interest organization?

Before you answer, consider the plight facing 3Ls who had every intention of going into the public sector and no intention of going to Biglaw. I’ve had conversations with a number of 3Ls who went to law school with every intention of working for a service organization. They did not participate in 2L OCI, they don’t have a firm job that they’ve been deferred from. And while they had every intention of taking a much lower salary than many of their law school colleagues, they still thought they would get paid enough to live on.

Now, their jobs are being snapped up by people who can work for free, and live better “for free” than many of the people in the organization. How can they compete for jobs at these cash strapped organizations when a host of Biglaw “temps” don’t even need to be paid? If you’re getting $60K from Ropes, an extra $35K from a public interest job can make up a little bit for the salary you’ve been forced to give up because your firm pushed back your start date. But $35K was also going to be the “living wage” for somebody who had a real passion to defend the indigent or work for a non-profit or whatever.

There are probably no right answers to these situations. Nobody is winning during the “greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.” But while everybody is trying to figure out what they can do, we also need to keep an eye out for what people should do. Please participate in our reader poll below. People are really trying to figure out how to make these programs work.

Earlier: Public Interest Jobs Won’t Fall Into Your Lap

Associates Scrambling For Public Interest Jobs

Ropes & Gray: Defers Start Dates, Offers ‘New Alternatives’ For All Associates


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