Morris Manning, Summer Associates

Open Thread: Is This the Beginning of the End for Summer Associate Programs?

summer associate program ATL Above the Law blog.jpgPeople are already calling the class of 2009 the “lost generation.” We’ve detailed the difficult market facing the class of 2010. But yesterday we received some news out of Morris Manning, an Atlanta-based firm with approximately 175 lawyers, that suggests tough times are ahead for the classes of 2011 and beyond.
Morris Manning managing partner Bob Saudek sent around this firm-wide email:

FYI, the firm has decided not to interview on law school campuses this fall, which of course means that we do not plan to have a formal summer program next summer. This decision was made because we don’t know when the economy will pick up, we feel that our first obligation should be to making sure that our existing lawyers are productive rather than committing to bring in a whole class of additional associates, and we believe that when and as we need to hire additional lawyers there are very likely to be a lot of well-qualified experienced lawyers available as well as well-qualified third year law students, since so many firms have contracted significantly and reduced or eliminated their summer programs.

Is this a wise strategy? In a post late last year over at Adam Smith Esq., Bruce McEwen expressed doubts:

[Y]ou cannot introduce a gap into that supply chain. You need to be in the business of continually recruiting new talent, in order to feed the continually moving production line of senior to mid-level to junior staff needed to manage cases and transactions. You cannot, in other words, inflict on your own firm the equivalent of a “lost generation.”

So counter-intuitive as it may seem, I recommend continuing to feed the associate pipeline from the start, summer associates and first-year hires, even at the cost of some mid-year enforced “attrition.” Aside from what I believe to be sound long-term reasons to continue investing in the firm’s future in this way, there are as well both an abstract and a prudential argument for same.

Of course, there is always a counterargument. Let’s get into it, plus take a reader poll, after the jump.

Some people are openly advocating for the destruction of summer programs. The Lawyerist offered this take:

Large law firms created summer associate programs for two main reasons — as a way to test out new legal talent over the course of several months (an extended job interview, if you will) and as a means of connecting potential new associates with attorneys already in practice. However, this test drive period has proven to be costly — and clients are no longer willing to bear the expense of law firm hiring and training. In addition, in an age of both economic uncertainty and mobility, summer associate programs provide little guarantee that new associates won’t leave after only a short time in practice. In essence, these programs have become a luxury law firms can ill afford.

Should firms continue spending the money necessary to keep the pipeline open? Or should they try to replenish their attrition losses through the lateral market, now flooded with the resumes of many talented attorneys? In a world where everything seems to be changing, killing the summer program would significantly affect the way young attorneys find jobs.

Summer associate programs facing extinction? [Lawyerist]
What’s Your Attrition Rate Lately? [Adam Smith, Esq.]
Earlier: Skadden Summers: Welcome to the New Market Class of 2010 start dates pushed to 2011.
Welcome to ATL, Summer Associates

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