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May 11, 2009 2:10 PM

Drinker Biddle to Incoming Associates: Homeschooling for You

Posted by Rachel Breitman

Philadelphia's Drinker Biddle & Reath is saying no to associate deferrals and yes to lawyer training. As reported Monday by The Legal Intelligencer, an Am Law Daily sibling publication, the firm will open its doors to 37 new associates in September. 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.

"In the last few years, there has been push back from clients who want more experienced lawyers," Drinker chairman Alfred Putnam, Jr, tells The Am Law Daily. Initial feedback from clients about the program has been positive, Putnam says.

The move is a departure in the Philadelphia market. Most of Drinker's local competition has opted to defer start dates for incoming associates. Dechert has pushed the start dates for two-thirds of its 2009 first-year class into the spring and fall 2010. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius has deferred all new associates until fall 2010. And Blank Rome won't see new associates in its offices until January 2010.

Drinker Biddle had a good year in 2008. According to the most recent Am Law 100  survey, published this May, gross revenue increased 7 percent to $382 million, and profits per partner also moved up 5.2 percent to $605,000.

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Sounds like a paid apprenticeship. It is about time since law school doesn't teach the "nuts and bolts" of law practice.

This Drinker program shows true leadership, respect for the profession and excellent client service. It will also create tremendous loyalty among these associates. This is the type of innovative idea that law firm clients applaud.

This is how it should be at all law firms. I would have loved this!

They are on the right track. Please also get them to a law librarian for research training. I once had a first year from Yale ask a question and I referred him to the U.S.C.A. and he said "What's that?"

I have been a Legal Office Manager for 20 years and tried to sell this concept in every firm I worked.

HOORAY! They will have better attorneys, at less expense and happier clients.

slg

Bravo for Drinker Biddle. This is the first truly innovative thinking to come out of the present crisis. I'm not sure it will work and it could end up costing more (e.g., what happens when the better and more expensively trained associates come up against the partnership decision - will they leave Drinker in the same numbers they now leave all biglaw firms - if so, Drinker will have invested more for the same return), but presumably Drinker has thought about this and is confident it won't be a problem. I suspect that a change in associate socialization will have to be accompanied by a change in law firm structure and status categories to retain the newly socialized associates but that would be a good thing as well. That notwithstanding, congratulations to Drinker for breaking the imagination logjam. Its innovation ought to get firms thinking again. Those that don't, I fear, will go the way of Thelen, Heller, and the others who find that the tectonic plates have shifted once again.

Congratulations to a firm that finally understands, and is willing to make an investment in its people!

Drinker is taking a first step towards solving the training problem. The failure of most large law firms to train their associates is matched by the strength of their demand that law schools provide the practical training they do not. Thus, law students must pay for high-priced clinical programs, and they graduate with $100,000 in debt.

The law firms should be doing the practical training, not the law schools. Drinker is showing the way.

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