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March 12, 2009 6:44 PM

Skadden Tweaks 'Sidebar' Program to Allow Deferrals

Posted by Brian Baxter

The phrase "deferred start date" might be one that Am Law 200 associates-to-be should commit to memory.

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is now extending its "Sidebar" program to include its incoming associate class. According to a memo by Skadden executive partner Robert Sheehan obtained by The Am Law Daily, the Sidebar program "allows attorneys to take extended time from the firm to pursue personal interests while maintaining a connection to the firm."

News of the change was first reported on Above the Law.

The program had previously been extended to associates and counsel in the firm's U.S. offices as a means of taking up to a year off to work for academic institutions, foundations, government agencies, and whatever else piqued their interest enough to seek a brief hiatus from the country's highest grossing law firm.

"In consideration of the current economic climate and the reduced demand for legal services, we have decided to take this creative 'win-win' approach to help our attorneys pursue opportunities where they can be the most productive and develop new skills," said Skadden's executive partner-elect Eric Friedman in a statement released by the firm to The Am Law Daily. (Friedman will take over for Sheehan in April.)

Skadden reported gross revenues of $2.2 billion in 2008, a 1.4 percent increase from the year before. The firm's profits per partner declined 9.5 percent to $2.06 million with revenue per lawyer falling 5.5 percent to $1.10 million.

"During this period of diminished development opportunities, the [Sidebar] program affords associates and counsel in U.S. offices in good-standing the ability to pursue personal or professional interests for a one-year period with the option to return to the firm at the end of that period," wrote Sheehan in his memo. "We are also offering a similar program to our class of 2009 incoming associates who may wish to defer their arrival until the fall of 2010."

At this point the program remains strictly voluntary. According to the memo, attorneys participating in it will receive one-third of their current annual salary "in a single lump-sum payment."

Skadden also will reimburse outstanding law school loans at current repayment rates up to $1,000 per month along with COBRA costs. During enrollment in the program, individuals are not considered employees of the firm.

While bar registration and CLE costs will be reimbursed, an associate's class status upon returning to the firm will be determined on the basis of work the individual performed while engaged in the Sidebar program.

The firm stated in its memo that employees interested in the program should notify the firm by April 10. Entry into the program is expected to take place the following month.

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Wish this deal had been available when I was a Skadden associate in 2004, sniff ...

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