Monday, June 21, 2010

In-house legal department tries "apprenticeship program" for new law grads

Although the National Law Journal reported last week that commentators are more enamored with the "apprenticeship model" of law firm hiring then the firms themselves, Hewlett-Packard announced it will also give the program a try as an alternative to its usual hiring practice.  

Readers of this blog know that beginning last fall, in the wake of the legal market meltdown, a few firms announced that they would spurn the traditional BigLaw hiring model in favor of an "apprenticeship model" whereby new law grads would be hired at a below market salary allowing them the luxury of learning the necessary legal practice skills for a year or two without the additional pressure from their employers to immediately produce high billable hours.  The so-called "apprenticeship model" has generated a lot of discussion in the blogosphere with many commentators wondering if it would fundamentally change the way legal employers hire and train new grads.  But as the NLJ recently reported:

Proponents hail the programs as a positive step away from the sink-or-swim environment many young attorneys encounter when they show up at large firms, and as a practical response to the growing cost-consciousness of clients. The firms bill at much lower rates or not at all for work performed by the apprentices, who earn lower salaries than the industry standard.

Nearly one year in, partners said they are pleased with the progress new associates have made with more extensive training, while first-year associates said they have a better understanding of how lawyers work and what clients want. Firms need a few more years to gauge whether these apprenticeships ultimately produce lawyers who work more efficiently, bill at higher rates and stay with the firm longer than the typical associate, but Howrey, Drinker Biddle and Frost Brown all plan to continue the apprenticeships for new arrivals in September. "It's turned out fabulously, to be honest," said Frost Brown Todd partner Chris Habel, the chairman of the firm's attorney advancement committee. "The clients understand that we are trying to improve the legal profession, and the partners have been happy with it."

. . . .

Not that there's any rush to jump on the bandwagon — no other firms have announced similar programs since last summer. Critics worry that lower apprenticeship salaries will hurt a firm's ability to recruit top prospects and that the programs aren't worth the necessary partner time and resources. The few firms that have made the transition are either litigation-focused or regional in scope. No large general practice or white-shoe firms have started apprenticeship programs, which likely adds to the overall reluctance to take that step, said Jordan Furlong, a Canadian legal consultant. He discussed apprenticeship programs at U.S. firms during a recent symposium on the evolution of law firms at Georgetown University Law Center.

Nevertheless, the online ABA Journal is reporting today that Hewlett-Packard is going to try the "apprenticeship model" for its own in-house legal hiring needs representing a departure from the usual industry-wide practice of hiring laterals:

Like most corporations, Hewlett-Packard hired its in-house lawyers after they got some experience at law firms.

Now the company is trying a different tack. It is hiring four lawyers fresh out of law school and paying them $115,000 a year, plus a $15,000 hiring bonus, the Recorder reports. HP will train the lawyers in programs similar to the ones implemented at Howrey and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

. . . .

The training program will be divided into practice areas, including intellectual property, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, and employment law, the story says. Skills emphasized will include research and writing, negotiation, litigation and business acumen.

You can read more of the ABA's coverage here and the NLJ coverage here.

I am the scholarship dude.

(jbl)

 

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