Biglaw, Howrey LLP, Legal Apprentice

Screening ‘BigLaw Apprentice’ at Law Firms

hired law grad apprentice.jpgFirst years to 100K and an “apprenticeship”?
In the past two months, we’ve reported on three firms instituting an apprenticeship model for first year associates: Drinker Biddle, Howrey, and Frost Brown Todd. “Apprentices” start at the firm at a lower salary and are not billed out to clients, billed out at a lower rate than normal associates, or billed out for lower total hours. It sounds like an apprentice is a “paralegal plus.” Of course, that “plus” includes a J.D. and its accompanying law school debt.
Still, when we polled you last week, almost 70% of ATL readers who voted said they were in favor of Howrey’s $100K-plus-professional-training apprenticeship.
The National Law Journal (subscription) has an extensive piece on apprenticeships (noting two other firms that have instituted the practice — labor firm Ford & Harri­son and Dallas’s Strasburger & Price):

These firms are putting new recruits through additional apprenticeship programs that they say will better train their attorneys for life at a law firm and for handling clients. Think of it as the equivalent of a medical residency, only with suits instead of scrubs.

The latest — and so far largest — firm to move to an apprenticeship model, 659-lawyer Howrey, announced its program last week. Starting next year, first-years at the firm will get a pay cut — from $160,000 to $100,000 in base pay plus a $25,000 bonus to pay down law school loans — and they’ll spend a good portion of their time attending classes with partners and shadowing them on client matters. The apprenticeship period will last two years.

Are law students really like medical students, in need of on-the-job training in order to operate in the real world? If apprenticeships become widespread — which admittedly seems unlikely once the tough economic times are behind us — should the training at a firm mean one less year in law school? Firm salaries are going down, but law school tuition is going up. Maybe it’s time to rebalance.
A round-up of the salaries for BigLaw apprentices, and a poll on how law schools should be reacting to deflating salaries, after the jump.

Firms like the apprenticeships because it reassures clients who are reluctant to shell out the big bucks for green lawyers. And this will help avoid the need to defer new associates. While the firms save on overhead by paying lower salaries, they won’t be making money off these associates since they won’t be billed out to clients at the same rates or frequency as in the past.
The NLJ has a nice round-up of the salaries in the current apprentice programs:

At Howrey, the drop from 27 to 20 associates and the pay cut will reduce first-year salary costs from $4.16 million to $2.5 million. Salaries rise at Howrey for the second year of the apprenticeship to $125,000 plus another $25,000 bonus for getting through the program successfully.
“Our paying less is a way for us to separate those who are solely in it for the money from those who want to be litigators with us for the long haul,” Ruyak said Ford & Harrison, which launched its program in 2007, paid its inaugural class of six apprentices its standard $130,000 because they signed on under that salary rate. Those hired for next year will make $115,000.
Drinker Biddle dropped salaries for the first six months of the year to $105,000. Associates can then expect their salaries to go up to “market rate” at the end of the initial six months.
Frost Brown Todd dropped salaries to $80,000 from the roughly $100,000 it offered, depending on the market. Strasburger & Price, which has about 180 lawyers, pays its four first-year associates $120,000 with a $10,000 stipend to cover bar expenses.

Law school tuition is still set according to an assumption of a post-graduation job that pays $160,000. If salaries are dropping, should law schools be sharing in the pain? Or, if firms are offering the practical training that law school are supposed to offer, should law schools should shorten their programs?
What should law schools be doing given the changes in the legal industry? Over to you, ATL readers:

For some firms, an extra step for the newest recruits [National Law Journal]

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