Associate Residency Programs: It’s Time

Between reading The Lawyer Bubble and this article from The American Lawyer, Calling All Unemployed Law Grads: Greenberg Is Hiring, I have to say, “It’s time, already.”

Well, in truth, I have said it before. Several times, actually. Click here to see >> Law Firm Internship posts on the Legal Watercooler.

What do we need to do to start a required residency program for recent law school graduates? A true internship where they will be vetted, properly trained, and find the niche that best fits their skill set and personalities?

We KNOW that the best of the best law schools DO NOT prepare lawyers for the actual work and practice of the law.

We KNOW that law firms are required to take these highly educated people with no skills and teach them how to be lawyers, versus a law school graduate.

And we all KNOW, wink wink, that the summer associate programs are not training grounds either.

So why not acknowledge what we all know and fix a problem that needs fixing already?

Have a 1-2 year internship where these young graduates get to rotate through the different departments: corporate, litigation, tax, IP, regulators, etc.

Let them find where their interests lie, and where they fit in as well.

Let them transition from student to corporate flack, learn the ropes of working in an office (the very first real job for most), and dive in in year two on a specialty.

Let them spend time not only working client files, but coming out of the shadows and attending client meetings, depositions, going to court to just listen and learn, without the pressure to bill, bill, bill (over bill).

And, yes, be paid a lot less money. Why? Because they are learning. They are not providing value … yet.

At the end of year two the associate will be as prepared and trained as they can be. The firm can then offer them a full-time position at a proper market rate, or they will be better equipped to take their skills to another platform, which they are doing any way.

And before anyone says, “They’ll never do it,” why give them a choice?

Doctors do not leave medical school without going through rotations. They don’t graduate and start treating patients the following Monday. They go through a residency program. And, for many, they follow that up by a fellowship. All the while making a moderate salary.

I hope more and more firms jump on the internship bandwagon. Properly train these young associates on not only the skills they need to practice law, but the skills they will need to manage the business-side of the law firm (including rotations in accounting, marketing, and IT).

Like most things legal-industry, the law firms will only be pushed into change by client pressure. But it would be nice to see a proactive partnership between the Association of Corporate Counsel, the American Bar Association, the state bar associations, and the law firms to come up with a system that will provide a platform for success.

After all, these young associates are coming out of school with $200,000+ in debt. They cannot afford to fail. Law school is too expensive to be a mistake.