Tag Archives: first year associates

Investing In First-Year Associates: They’re Worth It.

The Wall Street Journal asked this morning, “First-Year Associates: Are They Worth It?” The answer is, only if you feel like growing your firm. First-year associates may be costly, but they are essential to a firm’s innovation and advancement.

Unfortunately, corporate clients don’t necessarily want to invest in your firm’s future.

In a September survey for the WSJ by the Association of Corporate Counsel, a bar association for in-house lawyers, more than 20 percent of 366 in-house legal departments polled refused to pay for the work of first- or second-year attorneys, in at least some matters.

This survey demonstrates a rising trend where clients and the heads of law firms no longer want to pay high hourly fees to newly employed law school graduates.

Almost half of the companies surveyed—which range in annual revenues from $25 million to roughly $4 billion—told the WSJ that they instituted these policies during the past two years.

The survey confirms news that has become problematic for law firm professionals for some time now.

“A combination of the legacy of financial crisis and higher rates for junior associates—$200 or $300 for an hour’s work, which typically includes research, proofreading or culling important documents from boxes of paperwork—appear to be driving trend,” reports Joe Palazzolo in his article in the WSJ.

“The line is simple: Chief legal officers don’t want to absorb the costs of training newly minted lawyers.”

This trend has lawyers and law firm managers questioning new associate training and hiring methods. Can first- and second-year associates earn their stripes by learning to be productive sooner? Or, will these associates just become write-offs by law firms for helping employ previously unemployed workers?

The WSJ proposed a solution focused on more intensive first-year training. R. Bruce McLean, the chairman of Washington, D.C.,-based Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, told the WSJ that if the trend continues, “firms will have to find a new solution, perhaps a new billing model or intensive training programs similar to those in the U.K., where prospective solicitors take a one-year course on legal practice followed by an apprenticeship.”

But, for firms, more complete training is a positive change. It’s vital to the growth of a firm and should already be happening with them.

So, what else can law firms do to avoid paying high costs for young associates?

Besides exhaustive training programs, firms should adjust their billing model. There should be a more widely graduated scale for hourly fees between junior, senior, and partner attorneys. And, recent graduates should learn to expect lower annual salaries.

In exchange, law firm mangers and managing partners should make it clear that senior attorneys should be mentoring junior ones. This way, junior associates get training and senior associates eventually get better help.

With this in mind, firms should be giving new associates more opportunity and responsibility. With experienced paralegals and senior associates abound, there will be ample time to double-check their work.

Plus, in today’s suffering economy, law school grads are more eager and hungry to prove themselves. You’ll be surprised by the high-quality work and new ideas they can produce.

Training does cost the firm in the short-term, but it should pay two-fold in ideas, support, and partner-track associates in the long-term.

Finally, don’t forget to introduce your legal team to your clients—the entire legal team.

Once your client becomes familiar with the names and faces (or at least voices) of his legal representatives, he will likely feel more comfortable paying for their services. After all, he shook their hand. They were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and ready to win his case.

This will also give younger associates much-needed experience working directly with clients (see comment on training above).

Economic recessions bring out new trends and changes in every industry. The field of law is no exception. Usually, a recession increases competition and efficiency among rival firms.

So, ensure your firm survives by embracing innovation in billing matters, hiring processes, and training programs. And, increase its efficiency by collaborating (not fighting) with your clients over ideas for best practices when they have questions over legal fees for those pesky first-year associates.

The fresh perspective and technological know-how of the younger generation will lead your firm into the future.

-WB

 

Learn about retention best practices, solid training and mentoring programs, and alternative compensation packages to attract best-in-breed talent, experience higher retention rates and increased profitability in C4CM‘s box-set course, “Associate Advantage Resource: Best Practices in Associate Management.

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Falling Asleep At The Wheel: How To Avoid Drowsy Lawyering

Another late night at the office ends with a drowsy drive home. Lawyers, you’re not alone.

A National Sleep Foundation, 2005 Sleep in America study, claims 60 percent of adult drivers polled have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year. Four percent of the drivers polled also admitted to having been involved in an accident or near accident as a result of drowsiness.

In fact, each year, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue—crashes linked to roughly 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Less statistically graphed, though equally significant, is the extent to which fatigue affects productivity levels.

Non-traditional and nighttime work hours are linked to higher rates of drowsy driving. Likewise, an attorney’s late-night schedule often means missed deadlines, rushed filings, increased mistakes, and inadvertent inner-office (power) naps.  

So, instead of risking dangerously low productivity levels, try implementing a few of these tips to avoid excessive fatigue at the office. When an important client matter comes up, you don’t want to be caught falling asleep at the metaphorical wheel.

1. Break away from the computer. On a dark highway, it’s easy for your eyes to become fatigued. Bright headlights jar you awake and break your concentration. In the same way, reading articles all night on your computer screen can stress your eyes.

Every 45 minutes or so, look away. Take a break from staring into cyberspace, and print out the necessary research or pull out a law library book instead. A few minutes away from LED light are often enough to gain a second wind for work.

2. Take walks. You don’t have to be arthritic to acquire achy joints from the driver’s seat. Similarly, attorneys anywhere from first-year to senior status are vulnerable to the pains of sitting upright too long at a desk.

Try taking five minutes to walk around the block, around the building, or even down the hall. Circulation in the body can deeply benefit the mind.

3. Choose refreshments wisely. Even for a weary driver, there’s a fine line between just enough coffee and the jitters. Keep well nourished, hydrated, and caffeinated—if need be—but don’t over do it.

4. Know your limits.  An intelligent driver knows when to stop driving. Smart lawyers understand where to draw the line to finish or postpone work. Prioritize the tasks that must be done immediately, and then leave the rest for the following day.

As a lawyer, you’ll find productivity and efficiency levels increase after a good night’s sleep, and you’ll be less prone to careless errors in your work.

As a firm, encourage your associates to go home at reasonable hours and to take advantage of the office break-room. Not only will the partners see a boost in productivity, but clients will also see their cases managed more successfully.

Remember, it only takes a second to nod off and miss a turn, hit a lamppost, and change your life (or legal reputation) forever.

-WB

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Less Theory, More Practice For Law Students? NY State Bar Calls For Reform

Yesterday was a big day in terms of calls for education reform.

Thursday, at their annual meeting in Toronto, the New York State Bar Association submitted a draft resolution the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates calling for a more through consideration of the “requirements for the success of future lawyers as they carry out their responsibilities.”

The New York Bar Association is concerned that not enough time at law school is spent preparing students for the actual (as opposed to theoretical) practice of law.

The State Bar considers it the ABA’s responsibility to evaluate legal education protocol, specifically toward “enhancing clinical work and supervised activities such as meeting with clients inside and outside the clinical setting and in court, and developing capstone courses.” 

The resolution was aimed at several of ABA’s constituent bodies, including the Center for Legal Education, the Center for Professional Responsibility, the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, the Committee on CLE, the Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility and the Committee on Law School Accreditation.

However, law schools and law firms were also quick to respond.

John DeNatale, director of communications and public affairs at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said the Cardoza School supports this resolution to restructure the legal education system.

“We see the call to be practice-ready as a reflection of profound changes in the legal world,” DeNatale said. “As business models, cultural standards and institutions undergo transformations, lawyers must be innovative problem-solvers.”

It is this practical problem-solving and adaptive thinking that the New York Bar Association believes is lacking in the educational background of current law school graduates.

“Too many law students and recent graduates are not as well prepared for the profession as they might be,” explained a summary of the one-page resolution.

“Law schools, bar examiners, the judiciary and the bar owe more to our young colleagues in these difficult times. This resolution is intended to cause those involved in legal education to address these issues, find solutions and revise legal education to meet these needs.”

To some, just “knowing the law” is no longer enough.

Others, like Richard A. Matasar, Dean and President of New York Law School, prefers to caution those seeking curriculum reform that not all schools are created equal. Because each law firm’s mission is designed differently, the autonomy of law schools to address the needs of their students should be protected.

“Some schools may see their role as having to produce practice-ready graduates because they may be joining smaller firms and others may see their graduates as going to larger firms where there may be more opportunity for [on the job] training,” Matasar concludes.

So as an employer, whether a partner at a biglaw firm or office administrator at a small one, what type of training do you expect from your first-year associates? Would you alter or reduce the number of in-house mentorship programs or CLEs if law schools provided students with more on-the-job training beforehand?

Law firms—like most businesses—have their own internal rules, regulations, and strategies that require unique training. Firm-approved language for briefs, procedures on contacting clients, discovery software, and digital versus traditional resources available for attorneys differ firm to firm.

This is exactly why it is up to the partners and senior associates (oftentimes experienced paralegals) to train new associates on their own terms. First years, for their part, are expected to know the law and have a standard, solid background in their chosen field.

The responsibility of legal training is split between school and practice, which is why the State bar’s resolution should have addressed companies and firms more than committees and colleges on what they’re doing to prepare young minds.t

The best place to learn about the real world has always been the real world.

-WB

Interested in learning more about best practices for employee retention, solid training and mentoring programs for your firm, and alternative compensation packages that attract best-in-breed talent? Attend C4CM’s course, “Associate Advantage Resource: Best Practices in Associate Management.

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Social Media Recruitment On The Rise, But Should Your Firm Follow Suit?

In May, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) closed its investigation into whether or not an “Internet and social media background screening service used by employers in pre-employment background screening” complied with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

The reporting agency in question, Social Intelligence, was deemed “a consumer reporting agency because it assembles or evaluates consumer report information that is furnished to third parties that use such information as a factor in establishing a consumer’s eligibility for employment.”

Taken out of legalese, this statement confirms that employers intent on issuing social media checks on employment candidates must comply with FCRA rules.

This means, when FCRA rules apply, employers will need to complete the following actions:

  1. Review the notice and authorization currently provided to applicants to ensure that these documents cover social media searches.
  2. If an applicant is selected for elimination from consideration based on the results of such a social media check—in whole or in part—be sure to receive a pre-adverse action notice that will supply the applicant with the same report received by the employer, or the FTC’s “A Summary Of Your Rights Under the FCRA.” Candidates have the right to dispute any alleged adverse information with the service provider that conducted the social check.
  3. Finally, after rejecting said applicant, release a final adverse action notice to the applicant, which should be written according to the language required by the FCRA.

However, the subtext of this news for employers is equally important as the rule-following.

According to a recent 2011 study conducted by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), as reported by the Workplace Privacy Counsel, 56 percent of employers rely on social media for recruitment purposes. The number of employers relying on social media checks to hire new associates has increased by 22 percent since 2008.

According to the same study, an additional 20 percent of employers who do not currently use social media for recruiting intend to do so at some point in the future.

The sites most used by employers for recruitment purposes are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (certainly makes you rethink that last tweet).

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In any case, the SHRM survey doesn’t cover employers who conduct social media searches exclusively in-house, which are not subject to FCRA rules. The market for social media recruitment (and not simply the professional services who conduct them) is on the rise.

But how valuable is this information, really, for vetting possible candidates?

Philip Gordon, of Workplace Privacy Counsel, explains that the two major issues with social media recruitment are compliance and reliability. With compliance issues already briefly outlined, it’s time to question information objectivity and usefulness.

“Court systems, educational institutions, and employers, for example, have an inherent interest in maintaining accurate records for their own legitimate business purposes. By contrast, social media are replete with false, doctored, and biased information about others,” writes Gordon.

“Perhaps more importantly, social media posts apparently created by the author can be forged. I have recently counseled clients on two separate occasions where employees denied having posted on their Facebook wall negative information about the employer or co-workers, credibly claiming that others had stolen their log-in credentials or hacked into their account.”

So what’s left to believe these days?

If your firm decides it still wants to use social media for a recruitment tool, ask yourself what answers you’re hoping to unearth via the Internet. If they’re of a truly personal nature, is this information legal to obtain or consider during an application?

If your goal is professional, are there other, traditional ways to procure more reliable credentials—references, letters of referral, university transcripts, for example—that are less invasive?

Technology is a vital asset to a law firm. But, if the information you seek about potential candidates is more tangential in nature—simply a way of finding a few candidates to that stand out—one-on-one interactions and interviews are often underestimated tools in today’s world of digital profiles.

Just something to consider in between updating your blog.

-WB

There are a lot of benefits to online recruitment. Attend C4CM‘s course, “Facebook Recruiting Made Easy: How to Find Talent Today with Social Media” to learn more.

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Five Ways To Beat Associate Burnout And The Summertime Blues

Friday afternoons seem to inspire the theme, weekend rest vs. urgent case assignments.

Especially for summer associates and first year attorneys, June to August can be hot, tiresome months. While friends are lounging on the beaches of California and hiking up the hillsides of Colorado, the only mountain law associates see over summer is one of towering paperwork.

During these times, it’s easy to experience the associate burnout blues. Like the phone plan used to cancel dinner reservations and family holidays, unlimited nights and weekends working on cases is an accepted part of this chosen profession.

However, instead of over-stressing about your deadlines, try implementing these five steps to prevent summer burnout.

 

1. Create A Problem/Solution List.

In just two columns, associates can determine what aspects of the job are most stressing, and then find solutions to quell them. Many times seemingly daunting tasks can be simplified once written down.

Whether it be complex efficiency issues in the office, or simply inadequate caffeination in the evenings (Problem: Excessive tiredness. Solution: 9:55pm coffee runs before Starbucks closes), a simple problem/solution chart can go a long way.

 

2. Seek Assistance.

Many associates overlook the potential of their legal assistant. First year associates are eager to impress law firm partners by tackling entire cases alone. However, don’t be afraid to delegate.

Make specific, achievable tasks for your paralegal to accomplish between 9 and 5 so that you can be home at a reasonable hour. Remember, getting legal writing done well is better than getting it all done yourself. Being able to manage a complex work schedule is part of the first-year associate test, in addition to a skill equity partners will be more impressed to see.

The same goes for home life. Why argue with loved ones over laundry when, for a small fee, you can just send it out?

 

3. Visit With Friends And Family.

It may be tempting to bail on family dinner when you know there’s still hours of work to be completed. But, spending thirty minutes with friends or your spouse is enough to rejuvenate even the most burntout family man.

 

4. Take Time To Telecommute.

We’ve discussed the benefits of FLEX scheduling and attorney autonomy before. Now it’s time to put it into action. You may not have attended your daughter’s soccer game, but you can at least oversee her homework (or tuck her into bed) by telecommuting a few nights during tough weeks. 

 

5. Attend Work Happy Hours

Finally, don’t skip out on work social events. Office life will improve once you get to know your peers. Also, comparing war stories with colleagues can be both cathartic and refreshing. Otherwise, at least your mojito will be.

Happy Friday.

-WB

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