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The Revolution is Upon Us: BigLaw Starts 'Residencies'

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on


It has always seemed, to this practical descendant of Midwestern farmers, that BigLaw's hiring model was odd. Get recent grads with shiny resumes. Give them $160,000, even though they know little to nothing about practice. Bill the client for the training of these associates.

In a way, you could justify it: sometimes you have to overpay for free agent prospects. But in a buyer's market for firms seeking associates, you'd think they would've caught on sooner.

Better late than never, right?

Residencies or Apprenticeships

This, my friends, is where BigLaw should've gone years ago. Hire a plethora of lottery-ticket associates at reduced salaries. After a year or so, take the best of 'em and put them on the traditional associate to partner path. Either fire, or "of counsel" the rest of the lot.

Greenberg Traurig announced this week that it will be adding a residency program, reports Above the Law. The program will pay less (though the firm hasn't made figures public yet), will require only 1,900 billable hours, and will allow these prospects to fill up to a third of their billable hours with training and professional development.

Residents come with a one-year trial period. After that, they are either bumped to the normal associate track (with the corresponding massive BigLaw salary), transitioned to "practice group attorneys," or outright terminated.

It's a win-win proposition, isn't it? We recent grads won't complain about the reduced salary, especially when it comes with BigLaw pedigree, training, and the chance at a shot at a long-term career. For the firm, you're risking a lesser salary on someone who may have been overlooked in OCIs (especially the barren OCIs of the recession) in hopes that you'll unearth the next rainmaker, plus you get a new class of attorneys that make less, and can be billed to clients at a reduced rate.

Though GT isn't the first firm to employ the "residency" model (Drinker Biddle, way back in 2009, flirted with paying associates less, but with more training, and less billing) it's encouraging to see a true BigLaw player jumping in. Hopefully, for the sake of the hordes of unemployed graduates being churned out, this is a the beginning of a trend.

Non-Partnership Track Attorneys

This isn't quite as revolutionary, but GT will also be introducing "practice group attorneys," who earn less, bill at lower rates to clients, and have no shot at a partnership future, but on the bright side, they'll presumably have a semblance of work-life balance.

Firms have always had "of counsel," "non-partnership track associates," and other similarly-designated classes of attorneys. One significant difference might be a reduced salary, and reduced hourly rate to clients. Otherwise, as ATL notes, it's simply more of the same: Kilpatrick Stockton has "department attorneys," Orrick has "career associates," etc.

We're obviously keen on the new hiring models, but what are your thoughts, dear Greedy Associates? Are you raging over reduced pay? Excited for opportunity? Tweet us your thoughts @FindLawLP.

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