There are a lot of large firms these days casting about for some kind of long-term fix for their crumbling business models. We wrote in May about Drinker Biddle hitting upon a model which, in the weird world of law firms, actually sounded novel: train your new attorneys to be attorneys! That light-bulb moment was bound to be noticed by other firms, and this week it was. Howrey, the D.C.-based, litigation-centric firm previously known for bringing you litigation bootcamp in place of summer-associate slackitude, has initiated a new training program that amounts to a two-year apprenticeship for its new associates.
The National Law Journal and Above the Law both reported on the "Tier 1 Associate Program," which will start this fall. With bonuses considered, Howrey associates will be paid $125,000 the first year, which will focus on structured training and pro bono work. The second year will see a slight pay bump to $150,000, and an opportunity for associates to work with clients at reduced billing rates. After that, the training wheels come off, and Howrey has (it hopes) a whole new group of litigators who are truly ready to work with clients. Howrey managing partner Robert Ruyak, in his interview with the NLJ,
hit the nail on the head in describing the apprenticeship program: "Law
firms are way behind on this kind of thing. Other professions like
medicine have been doing this for years. The way we have been doing
things simply doesn't make sense."
So law firms are starting to get it. This may be the next step in the
evolution of firm hiring that we discussed in the Drinker Biddle post.
Law students are being presented with a real choice, to take less money
up front in exchange for real training and a chance to accelerate the
pace of their professional development. And while mmany might continue
to grab at the largest available paycheck, there will be no shortage of
new lawyers who will be happy to give an apprenticeship a go.
Perhaps not every firm could convince its partners to dip into the
annual profits to make a long-term investment like this -- after all,
even Ruyak admits that Howrey won't see any financial benefit from this
program in its first several years, at least -- but more would do well