One of the lasting effects of the recession has been clients wising up on the value of first-year associates (or the lack thereof). Many at large law firms knew that junior associates contributed little more than manpower during their first couple of years at a firm. But only in the crucible of the recession did clients start asking why they were paying money to finish the training of junior Biglaw associates.

Of course, being able to bill out your new labor at high billing rates is a key part of the law firm business model. Firms are already in a bind: since American law schools insist on graduating students with little to no practical skills, the kids must be trained. Training them on the client’s dime (while the law firm partners pocket a profit) is just one of the ways it has always been done.

But those who do not innovate die. Today brings news that two major law firms are going to try something different with their first-years.

The first-years will get paid their usual $160K salary. But at least at the start, they’ll have to go through more training…

The WSJ Law Blog reports that a pilot group of incoming associates at Debevoise and Plimpton will be participating in the Fullbridge program. The program was developed by two Harvard Business School grads. The Law Blog reports:

The Fullbridge program, which combines an online format with individualized coaching and group projects, aims to teach the junior lawyers financial and accounting concepts, including how to read balance sheets and analyze financial statements, as well as how to spot and resolve business problems in case studies.

They’ll also learn practical skills which many law schools don’t teach, such as creating power-point presentations and computer spreadsheets. Those skills can come in handy when junior lawyers are calculating damages or compiling facts for investigations or litigation, Debevoise says.

Well, somebody has to clean up after law schools that don’t finish the job. See also services like Practical Law Company (PLC), which provides resources to help transactional lawyers translate theoretical knowledge into real-world action.

In fairness, having lawyers with business smarts is a no-brainer. Not only are these the skills that clients want their lawyers to have, they are also useful things to know for people who might one day manage law firms.

Skadden Arps is also putting its associates through a Fullbridge program. All 100 Skadden fall associates will participate.

Whether this kind of thing is enough to convince clients to pay for first-year associate work is another question entirely. The Debevoise program is four weeks long. The Skadden program is two four weeks as well.

UPDATE (5:18 PM): Sources add that in addition to the four-week Fullbridge program, Skadden associates have an additional four weeks of Skadden training before getting unleashed on the clients.

I’m not sure if that’s enough to wash the stench of “fresh law school graduate” off of the new people. But you’ve got to start somewhere. A few weeks here or there, and maybe one day we’ll even be able to open a school that focuses on training new lawyers for the practice of law.

Trendy New Perk (or Punishment?) for Law Firm Junior Lawyers: Business Education
[WSJ Law Blog]


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