As more and more law firms grapple with the economy, business as usual will never be the same for the legal industry.

We have watched, over the past few months, as AmLaw 200 firms shed thousands of attorneys and staff. And while law firm layoffs at Latham, White & Case, Pillsbury and other AmLaw 100 firms make the news and blogs, the smaller firms are flying under the layoff radar.

But law firms are FINALLY becoming more proactive in challenging their same-ol’ business models. We are hearing talk of rolling back the astronomical associate salaries, de-equitizing of partners, cutting back of billing hour requirements, and reducing hourly billing rates.

A big concern in all of this is: what about training the young associates? I keep hearing how clients do not want to pay for summer or first-year associates working on their files, which, in this economy, has lead to many a firm cutting their summer programs and either delaying start dates or rescinding offers to incoming first-year associates.

Has the time not come to require newly graduated law students to complete an internship prior to receiving their licenses to practice law? I wrote about it here last August.

One thing we ALL agree on is that law school does not equip young associates for the day-to-day challenges they will face when practicing law. Seeing the pass/fail rate of the bar exam, law school does not prepare you for that either.

However, each September we escort these young men and women, in their ill-fitting suits, carrying shiny new briefcases, to a window office near the top of a high-rise, and pay them upwards of $150,000-$165,000 per year, all the while billing them out at several hundred dollars an hour to the client … and they know NOTHING.

The Atlanta firm Ford Harrison introduced their “Year One” Associate Development program in 2007.

“Our goal is to close the gap between what law schools teach and what clients demand,” said C. Lash Harrison, managing partner of the law firm. “By placing the emphasis on learning rather than billing, Ford & Harrison will increase the capacity of its associates to handle greater responsibility earlier in their careers.”

So, while you’re mulling over another round of layoffs, cutting salaries, de-equitizing of partners, and reducing rates to battle the effects of the current economy, why not consider an “on-the-job training through mentoring, hands-on work assignments and direct observation of client matters …modeled after the medical school’s resident approach”?