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June 7, 2010 6:10 PM

Fewer Summer Associates Doing More Interesting Work--But Clients Won't Pay

Posted by Drew Combs

Summer associate programs have traditionally offered law students a way to familiarize themselves with the inner workings of the legal industry--if not with the actual practice of law. This year's summer associates are learning that, at the moment, those inner workings are getting an overhaul.

That's the lesson contained in this article from Am Law Daily sibling publication the New York Law Journal. This year’s summer associates, the NYLJ's Nate Raymond reports, finds itself at the vortex of three trends that are substantially altering the coveted--and historically rather carefree--internships.

Those trends include: a growing reluctance on the part of clients to pay for work performed by summer associates; the introduction of more substantive work assignments for summer associates; and the decision by a number of firms to shrink their summer classes.

Citigroup, Inc., Raymond reports, recently informed firms that handle its matters that it will no longer pay for work done by summer associates. One law firm partner says the company's move is the latest in what he describes as a ten-year slide.

The growing unwillingness by clients to pay for such work comes at a time when the number of summer associates at many New York firms has fallen sharply, according to a chart accompanying Raymond's story. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Sullivan & Cromwell, and Cravath Swaine & Moore are among the firms that made severe cuts to their summer classes this year compared to 2009. Cravath, for example, reduced its summer class by 82 percent--from 121 summer associates in 2009 to 22 this year. 

Interestingly, the NYLJ notes, the cuts to summer associate classes come at a time when many firms are trying to shift their programs toward offering interns more challenging work. Last year, for example, Shearman & Sterling began requiring every summer associate to produce at least one piece of substantive writing, such as a memorandum of law.

The increased emphasis on substantive work actually dovetails with the smaller class sizes, the NYLJ reports, allowing for greater interaction between summer associates and firm partners as well as greater expectations on the part of partners. Now, if the firms could just get someone to pay for it.

Click here to read the the article in full from the New York Law Journal.

Contact Drew Combs at dcombs@alm.com.

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