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Changing the Formula of Hiring Summers Associates to Become First Years

July 16, 2009

For as long as most can remember, Morgan Lewis has been one of the city’s most prestigious firms.  It was essentially Philadelphia’s first truly national law firm (considered a megafirm even in the 1980s along with the Skaddens, Jones Days, and Sidley Austins of the world) and has long served as a trendsetter for other large firms in the city.  In fact, over a full decade ago, Morgan was one of the first handful of firms that started the first year associate pay scale “wars:” when first years’ salaries in some firms escalated from around $75,000 to $90,000 to $100,000 to $115,000 in a span of maybe only a year or two.  The main purpose of the raises was to compete with pay scales in New York and Washington, D.C.,  rather than reflect true profitability.  Yet, a good number of larger firms still followed or at least stayed close enough to compete for those first years. 

The question is now that Morgan Lewis has announced that it is not having a summer associate program in 2010, what will that mean for other large firms in the city.  Already, of course, things have changed dramatically, with many firms reducing their summer associate program size and others deferring first year start dates for a year.  But what if firms take a look at what Morgan is doing, assess their finances and figuratively say, “You know, having a summer associate program is just not cost effective.  The expenses in the summer are high, the production of first years is low, and many of them leave after a year or two anyay.  Let’s spend our resources on lateral hiring instead.” 

That, of course, would mean trouble to a lot of law students out there and those thinking about going to law school.   Still, perhaps more large firms should evaluate whether having the traditional summer associate program from which to hire first years is worth it.  Maybe, the economic realities just don’t justify them, and law school graduates will instead go into clerkships, small firms, public interest and other avenues before “qualifying” for the big firms.

Needless to say, there could be more drastic changes up ahead.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Phila3L permalink
    July 21, 2009 7:17 pm

    I think it’s time for the summer associate program to go away. It’s terribly ineffective, essentially a bait-n-switch, and does not show the true capabilities of associates.

    A friend of mine is a “summer clerk” at one of the Phila “BigLaw” firms. He’s routinely handed work that the assigning associates don’t think the summers can handle. He’s paid based on billables, something about $20/hr, and works long hours to get his work done.

    Meanwhile, the SA’s are taking home ~$2200/wk for dooley squat.

    It’s asinine.

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