Biglaw, Duval & Stachenfeld, Job Searches, Trendspotting

More Jobs, Better Training, Lower Pay: Welcome To The Future Of Biglaw

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. Or maybe good news with a catch, as we mentioned in Morning Docket.

The good news: Greenberg Traurig is hiring. The catch: the positions don’t pay $160,000 a year (or even $145,000, the new starting salary in GT’s Miami and Fort Lauderdale offices).

Following the lead of Kilpatrick Stockton, Orrick, and other Biglaw firms, Greenberg Traurig has created some new non-partnership-track attorney positions. They pay less than traditional partnership-track — or, in GT parlance, shareholder-track — positions, but the billable-hour requirements are lower and the training is better.

What do these positions look like? Let’s find out….

Greenberg Traurig has created two new types of posts, “residencies” and “practice group attorney” positions. These residents and practice group attorneys aren’t on the shareholder track and get paid less than associates, but they get billed out to clients at lower rates and get to spend more of their time on training and professional development — up to a third of their expected 1,900 hours. The training can be formal, through online courses offered by the Practising Law Institute (PLI), or it can be less formal, such as sitting in on client meetings or court proceedings (at no cost to the client).

Here are more details, from Sara Randazzo of Am Law Daily (sub. req.):

Greenberg [is launching] a new residency program that is being rolled out across its 29 U.S. offices. Firm leaders envision the program as a way of recruiting talented associates it wouldn’t have hired during the traditional on-campus interview process for one reason or another. It will also allow the firm to assign junior lawyers to client matters without billing their work at the usual cringe-inducing hourly rates.

Greenberg is simultaneously creating a new non-shareholder track position, practice group attorney, that is akin to similar jobs created by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, and others that have moved beyond the up-or-out structure typically employed by large law firms.

“Obviously law firms have been traditionally very slow to change,” says Greenberg CEO Richard Rosenbaum. “As we’ve all seen and read, this is certainly a time where change is way overdue in the way we hire, pay, and charge for lawyers at various levels, frankly.”

This is consistent with what Rosenbaum told us when we interviewed him back in August: “Traditional responses to a new world will simply not work. This is a time of great challenge but also huge opportunity.”

How much do the residents and practice group attorneys earn? Alas, Rosenbaum declined to specify. If you’re willing to enlighten us, feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477).

How long do the positions last? Residents and practice group attorneys are hired initially on a one-year trial basis. After the year is up, some of the residents will become associates, some will become practice group attorneys, and some will leave the firm. The practice group attorneys can have their employment extended as well.

UPDATE (2:20 p.m.): We’ve been advised that only residents, not practice group attorneys, come with the one-year trial period. Being a practice group attorney is more of a long-term position (although it’s not clear whether they can make the jump to associate and, if so, how hard that might be).

GT’s program, while innovative, is not completely novel. Within Biglaw, Kilpatrick Stockton has its “department attorneys” and Orrick has its “career associates.”

Beyond Biglaw, the GT approach reminds me of what law firms in Canada and the U.K. generally do with junior lawyers or lawyers in training, namely, pay less and train more (an approach that I’ve endorsed for reforming legal education). It’s also similar to what some smaller firms have been doing for years. For example, take Duval & Stachenfeld’s Opportunity Associate Program:

To permit the Firm and associates of somewhat hidden talent to enjoy success together, we have developed our Opportunity Associate Program. The essence of this Program is that there is a two-year period during which the associate (i) is paid significantly below major law firm “market” (the starting salary is $70,000), (ii) has 9 months to “make the team”, and (iii) if not terminated during such 9 month period, continues in the program with the expectation that in the second year the associate will be promoted to Principal Associate status, terminated, or promoted into our Alternative Track Program.

So Greenberg Traurig’s new approach might not be completely original, but is it a good idea? I’d say so. I agree with Anonymous Partner, who shared these thoughts with me about the initiative:

It reminds me of my proposed revamp of Biglaw, More Asssociates… Making Less.

Here are the similarities: (1) experiment in one practice group before rolling it out firm-wide, (2) offer clients a controlled-cost alternative to super high-priced junior associates, (3) put a time limit on the status to keep both the participants and the firm from getting stagnant, and (4) pay each attorney less in the interests of trying out more people. The situation does seem to be a win-win-win, with clients getting lower-cost help and a good feeling for helping out younger attorneys, the firm getting a deeper talent pool that they will surely find a way to make profitable, and Biglaw-aspirants getting a shot, albeit a non-traditional one, at chasing the Biglaw dream.

This is another sign that the big firms need to use their financial muscle to experiment, not just reward senior partners.

To my mind, this is a key concept: experimentation. These new positions might be win-win-win, or lose-lose-lose, or something in between. But if we never try, we’ll never learn. Good for Greenberg Traurig for trying something new. If this works out, rest assured that GT’s peer firms will follow suit (just as, for example, Orrick’s relocation of back-office operations to a lower-cost locale has been widely emulated).

More jobs, with better training, but at lower pay. This might be the future of Biglaw — and it actually doesn’t look that bad. Now if only we can get law schools to charge less, to reflect the increased difficulty of landing a $160,000 starting salary, this all just might work out.

Calling All Unemployed Law Grads: Greenberg is Hiring [Am Law Daily (sub. req.) via Morning Docket]
Associate and Opportunity Associate Programs at Duval & Stachenfeld [Duval & Stachenfeld]
Bring Back Apprenticeships [Room For Debate / New York Times]

Earlier: Nationwide Pay Raise Watch: A Major Firm Raises Associate Starting Salaries
A Biglaw Innovation, Or Department Of Disappointment?
The ATL Interrogatories: 10 Questions with Richard Rosenbaum from Greenberg Traurig
Buying In: More Associates… Making Less
Not on the Partner Track — and Maybe That’s Okay

ATL Law Firm Directory
(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments