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August 29, 2011 7:17 PM

DLA Piper Associates Will Be Paid to Do Good

Posted by Sara Randazzo

DLA Piper unveiled a program Monday that creates what many first-year associates might call a dream job--the opportunity to work on pro bono cases while taking home a six-figure salary unheard of at most public service organizations.

Starting in January, two incoming DLA Piper associates each year will be selected to do exclusively pro bono work for a year as part of the firm's DLA Piper/Krantz Fellowship Program, named for recently retired partner and pro bono advocate Sheldon Krantz.

The program was inspired by a desire to honor Krantz, a mentor to many within the firm and a crucial supporter of New Perimeter, the firm's six-year-old global pro bono affiliate. It will also allow DLA Piper to provide first-year associates hands-on training and case work without passing on the cost to clients, says Elizabeth Dewey, director of New Perimeter and a full-time pro bono partner.

Krantz Fellows will make a full first-year associate salary of $145,000 to $160,000, depending on their region, and spend a year working alongside DLA Piper attorneys and partners on pro bono projects in the United States and around the world, Dewey says.

Finding work for first-year associates, especially work that cost-conscious clients are willing to pay for, has been a recent challenge for Am Law firms. During the recession many found they had overextended themselves in hiring recent law school graduates, forcing them to defer starting dates, often for a year or more. Many law firms offered deferred associates the option to accept a reduced salary to work at nonprofit or public agencies during their deferral, and others brought on associates and gave them pro bono work to stay busy until client work rebounded. 

Christopher Walters, senior pro bono counsel at Reed Smith, says the program seemed like more than just another pro bono marketing ploy. "It's an innovative and interesting program," he says. "It's something other firms could give serious thought to."

DLA Piper is currently working pro bono on cases to improve the quality of education throughout the U.S., fight for women's rights in rural Africa, reverse urban blight in Baltimore, and help prevent rainforest deforestation. DLA Piper ranked 24 out of 200 firms on The American Lawyer's Pro Bono Scorecard in 2011.

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