How should law firms respond to the recession? As reflected in the dramatic events of yesterday, which will go down in Biglaw history as the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 2009, lawyer layoffs are a common route.
But there are other options. We recently wrote about how unemployed (or underemployed) lawyers can do pro bono work — a way of enhancing their skills, while serving the public. Now one leading law firm is taking this idea and running with it.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett recently announced a new program of public interest fellowships for their associates. From the memo:
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is pleased to announce a Public Service Fellowship Program which offers associates the opportunity to spend one year working on a public service project of their choosing, supported by a stipend from the Firm, with the option to return to the firm at the Fellowship’s conclusion. The Fellowship Program is designed to enable associates to provide greatly needed assistance, on a full-time basis, to organizations, communities, or individuals in the United States or abroad; encourage associates’ commitment to public service; and advance associates’ own vision of social justice.
One associate is pleased and proud:
I think it’s a creative, win-win solution for the firm, as well as for those of us — meaning, anyone with a paycheck and a pulse — who live in dread of layoffs. The firm saves $100k+ a year and doesn’t have either the spectre of layoffs or gaps in its associate classes when business turns around. It also sends a strong, morale-boosting signal to the associates that the firm is looking to do all it can to avoid laying off attorneys — and is actually willing to spend money to that effect (while, of course, also saving a good deal of money).
The reference to saving money while spending money refers to the stipend. Fellowship recipients receive a lump-sum stipend of $60,000, paid in advance. Yes, this is an upfront expenditure for the firm; but it’s less than the going rate for a first-, second-, or third-year associate.
More details, plus the full memo, after the jump.