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October 18, 2011

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Doug Richmond

Clients' reflexive refusal to pay for first- or second-year associates is silly. I worked with some very junior lawyers who were excellent from day one. What you term "downsourcing" is something of a parallel issue, since, in my mind, there have always been some tasks that never should have been assigned to junior associates but which should have been outsourced or assigned to non-lawyers simply because that was economically better for the client and junior associates dreaded the work. But there is also work that can and should be done by junior associates. Law firm partners have historically done a poor job of balancing and managing these issues, and, as a result, firms must now grapple with some serious structural concerns.

Anon, good nurse!

"What you term 'downsourcing' is something of a parallel issue, since, in my mind, there have always been some tasks that never should have been assigned to junior associates but which should have been outsourced or assigned to non-lawyers simply because that was economically better for the client and junior associates dreaded the work."

This. And also, the scut work -- document review, due diligence, preparing closing books, etc. -- retards the development of junior associates. I mean, here's the deal: You're going to write off a good chunk of a junior associate's time anyway. Why not have it be time spent on the first draft of a brief or an asset purchase agreement? Or even just researching interesting legal questions that come up time and again that no client has been willing to pay for yet? That sort of work is what makes junior attorneys good lawyers, and quickly too.

DB

Back in the last millenium when I was a general counsel of a financial services company, I would not pay for first year time. My company was engaged in very complicated transactions and it was more efficient to pay for partners, with assistance from experienced associates, to do deals. The easy stuff - organizing files and closings, drafting closing certificates - was handed off to paralegals.

With extremely rare exceptions, first year associates are useless. In fact, it takes several years for a lawyer to learn enough to be any good (just like doctors - no one thinks an MD fresh out of medical school knows how to do anything).

The problem, of course, as Prof. Ribstein has pointed out, is not that clients won't pay for associate training, it's that law firms are no longer are willing to invest in firm capital. If they were, they would have rigorous training programs, rotating associates through different kinds of assignments intended to give them a thorough grounding in an area of law. What firm does that today? That type of training is expensive and means that associates can't be billed out at top rates, etc. etc.

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