Where are the Well Trained Lawyers That Will be Needed Four Years Down the Road Come From and Who Will Pay for Their Training?

Where are the Well Trained Lawyers That Will be Needed Four Years Down the Road Come From and Who Will Pay for Their Training?



                                                                             Jerome Kowalski

                                                                             June, 2010

Yesterday, The New York Law Journal reported that significant clients, like Citibank,  Viacom and others simply won’t pay for time billed by summer associates.  The result of that fact, well expected before the summer began, resulted in a whopping reduction in the number of summer associates hired, as reported in the same edition of the NYLJ and, I suspect is otherwise well known to each reader of this piece.

            This trend is consistent with the ongoing trend by corporate clients to also not pay for the training of first and second year associates, as we previously discussed.  The result of that trend is that fewer law school graduates (3L’s) will also be hired in the coming hiring season, which is discussed in that same posting. The resulting on campus malaise was discussed the preceding day at

            All of these issues raise a number of issues, which the profession has not adequately grappled with; perhaps not even adequately thought about.   First, the whole issue of hiring summer associates – which, in effect,  requires law firms to predict how many full time associates they will need two years hence.  Simply put, law firms recruited summer associates in the Fall of 2009 to serve this summer (2010), with a view towards having those summer interns become full time first year associates in the Fall of 2011.  I’ve previously discussed the impossibility of law firms, or, indeed any business enterprise, to have adequate prescience to foresee what the economy will look like two years hence or to have anything but a wild guess as to how many new associates it will require or afford to train, since the clients have made it clear that they won’t be doing so.


            One obvious solution is to go to a Spring 3L hiring program, as boldly suggested by visionary K&L Gates Chairman, Peter Kalis and as is common in every other profession and large corporation hiring B-School graduates (which often leads to the question: who knows better: the legal profession or the rest of the world?).  Another solution, which may well be forced upon the profession by ineluctable exigencies is completely revamping the entire training process, also a matter of previous discussion.

            But we should also now be thinking of the coming conundrum: Small and medium sized law firms have for years, been comfortably sitting back, avoiding entirely the profession’s version of an American Idol type selection/elimination/weeding out process Rather, they have been exceedingly comfortable in letting AmLaw 100 firms train young associates and then pick from among those who have either been “voted out” of the process or decided to drop out or induced to drop out of large law firm life, leaving the American Idol stage.  

            But, here is the inevitable conflict that will arise in four years’ time:  Large law firms are now simultaneously scaling back dramatically in the hiring of 3L’s with a view towards waiting to see what the economy will look like four years’ down the road and then back and fill their needs for third and fourth year associates (for which clients will pay) by mutually cannibalizing associate ranks of their market peers. In this process, small and mid-size firms will concurrently compete for this diminished pool of talent. 

            The solutions, other than a new state of chaos in 2014 and afterwards, will, I believe, compel new models for substantive associate training, some of which have been previously addressed by me.

            Another possible solution may be far more practical skills instructional programs at the LLM level, where, inevitably, many law school graduates will nonetheless be looking for cover while the current economic storm continues to brew and the nation  — and the world – goes through an excruciatingly slow recovery,

            Shortly after I began to practice law in 1976, a client once told me that there is nothing more distasteful than hearing its lawyer saying “I told you so.”  I will promise to try to hold my tongue, as hard as that may be, in 2014 when this crisis over the horizon inevitably engulfs many significant parts of the profession.

© June, 2010, Jerome Kowalski.  All rights reserved.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: