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Law firms have long been the training ground for new attorneys while in-house positions are generally for associates with several years of experience.
The rationale is that new graduates don't have the practical skills to dive into legal practice. In-house counsel don't have time to provide training on both how to be corporate counsel AND how to practice corporate law.
But that problem might be solved as more law schools focus on practical coursework. Schools are revising their offerings to create more opportunities for practical and hands-on learning according to The Wall Street Journal.
Some companies have already signed on to the idea of hiring new graduates rather than fifth-year associates.
Hewlett-Packard began its own in-house training program in 2009 and Pfizer started a similar program in 2011 as reported by InsideCounsel. These programs take top graduates and mold them into the kind of lawyers the corporation needs.
One of the tradeoffs in hiring experienced associates is that they have a specific way of looking at issues, especially when it comes to risk analysis. Corporate law is often about risk management and prospective damage control says FMC Technologies GC, Jeffrey Carr. Firm training can at times focus more on risk avoidance and reactive decision making.
Hiring new graduates, especially those who learned practical skills during law school, provides an opportunity to build the right skills rather than changing ingrained habits.
The other benefit is the money.
HP paid its new hires $115,000 plus a $15,000 hiring bonus in 2009 according to the ABA Journal. That's a good salary for a new graduate but it's much lower than what an experienced associate would expect from a general counsel position.
Picking from top graduates at top schools could provide a better applicant pool than trying to seek out the best mid-level associate for your company. With the potential changes to legal education it may be worth hiring new graduates for in-house positions.