November 30, 2009
You’re Hired (or At Least For Now)! The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Posted by Kristin Johnson

Last weekend, The New York Times reported that internships are again en vogue and offer a welcomed path out of the recession for many seeking to transition between careers or aiming to take advantage of employment opportunities complementary to their areas of expertise. The premise of the article seems reminiscent of an article that you may have read last summer in the National Law Journal regarding Howrey Simon’s law apprenticeship program. For better or worse, Big Law seems to be setting the business trends this time around.

The article from last summer describes Howrey Simon’s intentions to create an apprentice program for their incoming associate classes. Compared to medical residency or secondment of a young accountant at a client’s offices, the apprenticeship program intends to focus on skills developing opportunities such as legal writing and research through pro bono and similar opportunities. While seen as a maverick by some, Howrey is only breaking ground locally. Internationally, other jurisdictions already require a kind of apprenticeship. England and Wales have an article requirement and Scotland has a traineeship requirement. The idea already has a well-established track record in the Americas. In Canada, “articling” is a prerequisite to being called to the bar; bar candidates take bar exams after they  article for one year. A “principal” or admitted lawyer must agree to be responsible for an articling bar candidate’s training during the articling year. How’s that for forced bonding and mentorship! Though, in practice, bar candidates’ experiences are likely quite varied based upon the principal with whom they spend the year working.

Interestingly, articling, is a requirement of the provincial bars and offers firms an opportunity to expand the “trial period” of their courtship with bar candidates for a longer and more substantive period than the three month summer associate program common in the U.S. A bit of regulatory capture there by the bars(?)–reinforcing the notion that young lawyers are still in training and are economically less productive (and therefore, justifiably paid less, a Howrey program proponent might add).  

Three observations about the introduction of the apprenticeship model. First, the introduction of the Howrey model facilitates a broader market reversal in associate compensation and reduces the reputational threat for firms who dare allege that students who completed three years at Big Law Schools still lack lawyering skills. Cravathand others’ bonus announcements this winter parallel the $25,000 discretionary bonus described in Howrey’s apprentice program. Second, while the Howrey apprenticeship announcement every-so-carefully declared no further reductions in pay levels, I expect that we will see creative explanations regarding decisions to reduce Big Law first year salaries from their current historic high of $160,000. Third, while Gordon rightly notes the record numbers of LSAT takers in the current period, perhaps the shift in the structure of compensation and the lengthening of the timeline for eligibility for Big Law associateship (5 years if including 3 years of law school and a clerkship or two year apprenticeship at the firm) may influence, if not dissuade, future LSAT takers.

Whether or not the Howrey program represents a good business model, it's a great idea for a pilot: The Apprentice: Big Law, a reality show that depicts junior lawyers competing for a place as an associate at a large New York/Chicago/San Fran law firm. We have seen many lawyers on television and lawerly television shows, but never a survivor-for-junior-lawyers. Should I start working on the script?

Financial Crisis, Law Schools/Lawyering, Television | Bookmark

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