In a recent post, Business Unusual in a Down Economy, I wrote about how the current economic conditions provide the right opportunity for law firms, law schools, etc. to introduce paid internships after graduating law school.

Kudos to our friends over at Drinker Biddle! Rather than defer their 37 first-year associates, they are designing a 1-year training program designed, get this, to set these young lawyers up for success.

Rather than immediately assign the incoming lawyers to client matters, the firm will enroll its hires in a new training program that will provide courses on taking depositions, writing briefs, and meeting client needs. The instructors will include Drinker attorneys, professional development staff, and firm clients. The 37 first-years also will shadow partners’ client meetings and court appearances. The associates may handle some client work, but at significantly reduced rates.

The program does come at a cost. Drinker will reduce first year associate salaries, which range from $145,000 to $160,000, to an annualized rate of $105,000. Salaries will return to whatever the “prevailing market rates” are in the spring of 2010. This will enable the firm to cover the costs of the training program.

According to my friends at Drinker Biddle, the details of the program are still in development, but the program will relieve both the new associates and partners from worrying about billable hours v. training these young men and women on how to be a good attorney. The training program will provide the opportunity for associates to actually participate in, shadow and LEARN from their partners and senior associates on how to become an attorney.

This is nothing less than a win-win-win for the associates, the firm, and the client, who will, after the program is completed, benefit from these now well-trained and prepared attorneys.

I believe that the current economic conditions and the challenges faced by our industry provide firms the opportunity to defy the status quo. It allows a law firm, like Drinker Biddle, to step outside that proverbial box and do the right thing.

The young men and women graduating law school today are not prepared to be lawyers. They need training in the practical application of their education, just like doctors do.

These young men and women need to learn business development and marketing skills, which do not come intuitively to the majority of lawyers.

They need to learn good office skills, how to work well with others.

And, they need to learn how to participate in, and contribute to, the economic and business success of both their individual legal practices, and their law firms as a whole.