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Hewlett-Packard Picks New In-House Lawyers Fresh Out of Law School

In the movie The Untouchables, Sean Connery counsels Kevin Costner: “If you don’t want to get a rotten apple, pick one fresh off the tree.” Apparently, Hewlett-Packard is taking the same advice; instead of hiring in-house attorneys seasoned in Biglaw firms, HP is getting its next crop of legal help directly from the nation’s top law schools. The Recorder reports (gavel bang: ABA Journal):

This fall, Hewlett-Packard is going where few corporate law departments have gone before: hiring fresh graduates for full-time in-house positions.

Four first-year associates will join HP in Palo Alto, Calif., in September — one from Harvard, two from Northwestern and one from UC-Berkeley. The associates will earn $115,000 per year plus a $15,000 signing bonus and undergo a training program similar to the type installed recently at firms like Howrey and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

We just did a report about how the lawyer training programs offered by firms like Howrey weren’t catching on. But perhaps HP can offer the renowned better lifestyle of in-house attorneys to buttress their below Biglaw market salary?

Of course, what’s the point of having an in-house job if a former Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner is going to make your work just as long and tedious as a Biglaw job? From the ABA Journal:

The training program is the latest change at HP’s legal department implemented by general counsel Michael Holston, who worked at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and was HP’s outside counsel before he moved to the company in 2007. Holston has increased workload requirements and trimmed spending on outside counsel since he took the job.

Generally, graduates from Harvard, Northwestern, and Boalt can still find “increased workload requirements” while earning $160K, not $115K. But one imagines that the worst day at HP isn’t much different than an average day at a top firm, so there will still be a lifestyle benefit for in-house first years. And at least HP is hiring … Michael Holston’s former firm can’t say the same. That’s going to be a big draw for law students:

Terry Galligan, UC-Berkeley’s assistant dean of career development, said he hasn’t seen a corporate law department recruit on campus since he joined the law school in 2002.

Students were very interested in HP’s proposition, he said. “Given all the uncertainty in the large law firm market, it’s seen as a good alternative and perhaps one that might be more stable,” Galligan said.

Off the top of your head, which has a more stable business: Hewlett-Packard, or Biglaw Firm X?

For HP, there is one huge benefit of hiring in-house counsel straight out of law school: they don’t pick up any habits from the pressures of firm life:

Under its old model, HP would recruit fifth- to seventh-year law firm associates to its legal department. “You spend a fair bit of time getting them to transition from risk avoidance to risk management,” said Buigas, who manages HP’s Personal Systems Group legal team. “Mike fundamentally believes that we can better develop lawyers in house right now than we can hiring from a law firm at the more junior level.”

Clients don’t seem to want to pay for law firms to train first-year associates, but first-years do need to be trained. Maybe clients can do the job better?

HP Decides to Hire, Train Fresh Law School Graduates [The Recorder]
HP Decides to Hire New Law Grads Rather than Law Firm Associates [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Legal Press More Fascinated By Apprenticeship Programs than Law Firms

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