Deferrals

We’ve received tips, texts, and phone calls about Blank Rome. As spring hurtles towards summer, the firm is letting incoming associates know that they won’t be starting any time soon. A tipster reports the firm is “rescinding” offers, but that’s not technically correct:

I just heard from a friend that Blank Rome has rescinded offers to Blank Rome 2009 associates … It’s pretty awful that a firm waited this long to finally rescind offers to its 2009 associates–and the legal gossip market ought to know about it.

Actually, the firm is not rescinding offers, it’s merely extending the deferral period for a few incoming first year associates. Indefinitely. With no expectation that the job offer will ever result in a job. And no stipend.

Yeah, I think the indefinitely deferred associates will get the point…

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Over a year ago, Skadden announced its Sidebar Plus program. Skadden gave associates the option to take a one-year deferral, for one-third of their Skadden salary.

All indications suggest that the program was a huge success. Skadden received so many volunteers that it had to turn some people away. Skadden associates received varied and interesting experiences during their year off. And the program was heralded in the mainstream media.

Skadden associates are set to return to the firm in May. After being away from the firm for a year, what status will these returning Sidebar associates have upon their return?

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Last month, we learned that deferred lawyers got along pretty well with their temporary public interest colleagues in New York. Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune reported that public interest organizations were more than happy to have temporary talent who had their Biglaw dreams deferred for a year:

The opposite ends of Chicago’s legal profession found a way to come together out of economic necessity to partially consume the supply of highly educated young lawyers looking for work. Despite several challenges, the unusual experiment has paid dividends. It also has sparked discussions of whether a more permanent model of apprenticeships can be developed that would train law-school graduates at a lower cost and benefit public-interest legal organizations that are suffering from funding constraints while attending to a greater need because of the recession.

“We absolutely would do it again,” said Robert Acton, executive director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid, or CGLA. “It would be a very generous act on the part of law firms.”

Permanent charity from law firms? Don’t bet on it. We’ve already seen evidence that the generous deferral stipends extended to the class of 2009 are being scaled back for the class of 2010.

And really, we shouldn’t expect major American businesses like law firms to be all that charitable. It’s one thing for a firm to encourage its attorneys to take on some pro-bono cases, but really isn’t it the job of law schools to — you know — invest the resources necessary to train young lawyers?

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