The Firms

September 8, 2010 5:03 PM

Waller Lansden Shakes Up Recruiting

Posted by Zach Lowe

When we heard the news about the plan at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis to do away with the traditional summer associate recruiting model in favor of bringing in select 3Ls, our reaction was much the same as that of Elie Mystal at Above the Law: Here is a change that is fundamental in nature. Previous tweaks to the much-maligned on-campus interviewing system, including a recent team-up between Jones Day and Northwestern, haven't altered the nature of a system that forces firms to effectively make hiring decisions two years in advance. 

The plan at Waller Lansden involves wholesale change. There will be no more summer associates in the sense that we know them--no crowd of 2Ls rotating through the firm's departments and earning the equivalent of a big-firm salary during the summer between their second and third years of law school. Instead, Waller will hire a small group of 3Ls who will work, remotely for the most part, for a specific group at the firm during September and October of their final year of law school, according to Kathleen Pearson, director of recruiting at Waller. The firm will pick those 3Ls based on real full-time associate job openings at the firm and have those 3Ls essentially compete for those job openings, Pearson says. 

The University of Tennessee College of Law has signed on as a partner, according to a statement the school released today and Above the Law. But they are not the only school. Pearson tells us that the Vanderbilt University School of Law also has agreed to expose its 3Ls to the Waller Lansden program. Officials from law schools outside of Tennessee have also called Pearson, expressing interest and wanting to know more, she says. She has meetings set up with some of those officials this week, she says.

Another key detail of the program, according to Pearson: Each 3L picked to participate (should we call them fall associates?) will receive a $10,000 scholarship as compensation. 

So: Is this the wave of the future? We've reached out to some law school officials and firm recruiters, and we're waiting on most of them to respond. Pearson also has discussed the idea with recruiters at other firms, and though they're interested, none seem too close to making any major changes to their recruiting system, she says.


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I take it Waller will be picking its 3Ls from a pool of people none of whom have permanent offers from their 2L summer jobs (I suppose their might be an occasional intrepid soul willing to turn down a permanent offer for the chance of an offer from Waller, though why someone would do this is not clear.) Does Waller typically hire from the lower class ranks, so that not being able to compete for the best students is not a concern? I can't see most Biglaw firms making the same concession. This doesn't look like the beginning of an across-the-board trend.

That is a good question, one we discussed ourselves. However, we expect to continue to see 3L students that meet our high hiring standards, just as we are already seeing this year. Because of the timing, students that summered as 2Ls at other firms will be welcomed into our program, provided they keep their permanent job options open in order to consider Waller and otherwise weigh their options. Also, given the compressed market for student hiring nationwide, there is an enormous amount of talent available in the 3L market.

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