Monday, June 21, 2010

The Ceiling is Dropping: Deferred BigLaw Associates Offered Discovery Positions!?

What ever happened to those hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deferred associates from 2009?  Are they all gainfully employed at this point?  Does anyone care?  Well, we should.  The final outcome for the industry's best and brightest is a good measure of the health of the legal industry as a whole.  McDermott Will & Emery  "extended offers to 54 members of the class; of those, 37 first years started last fall; 17 were deferred or seconded to clients; and 3 offers were rescinded."  But those 3 weren't rescinded altogether. Instead, they were offered positions as discovery attorneys (or permanent contract attorneys) at a rate of $77,500 plus bonuses and benefits.  Yes, I realize that this is a sweet deal for most of our readers.  But, this is not what these elite associates signed up. I can only guess, but I'm assuming that these associates were T14 and law review, moot court, etc.  There is no hope for partnership in this new fangled position as a "discovery" attorney.  Also, since they will only be dealing with discovery, there is little chance that they will gain enough experience in any field of substantive law to become an associate at another firm.  And partnership, forget it!  It's not option.

To be fair, McDermott Will has been perfectly open that it has two classes of associates. In 2007 it created a staff attorney track, according to The Recorder:
The idea is that the new hires--the firm is looking into starting with a pilot group of 15--will be lawyers 'with good pedigrees' who have practiced for a few years but don't want to deal with big-firm hours, said McDermott Will partner Robert Mallory said. Instead, they'll put in more like 30 to 40 hours and be paid something like 25 percent less, though an exact pay range hasn't been decided.
At that time, Mallory explained that economics was behind the decision: "In a market where high compensation for lateral partners, lateral associates, and associates [is] creating pressures, we're trying to bring the best-quality service at the lowest price to our clients."
Okay, so let's recap.  These non-partnership positions have been available to many lawyers in the past--not only at McDermott.  But these were positions that were easily attainable by T50 graduates.  Now that associates at BigLaw are being put on non-partnership tracks, you don't need a T50 for a non-partnership track attorney.  You can get a Stanford, Yale, Georgetown graduate to do the very same thing--forcing scores of T50 into the market with TT and TTT and TTTT schools.  So, you can see the impact of this type of move now?   The market for everyday normal attorneys is being inundated by the scores of graduates coming in from the bottom (40K+ annually) and then from the T14 at the top.  So, you should care about the deferred associates from the class of 2009, chances are you'll be seeing them in jobs that you could have gotten in 2008, before the meltdown.

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