Calling All Unemployed Law Grads: Greenberg Is Hiring
Greenberg Traurig has a proposition to make to recent law school graduates: Join the firm as an associate, but only if you're willing to spend a third of your time training rather than churning out billable work.
The catch? Those who sign on will be paid considerably less than the typical starting associate, will bill at a much lower hourly rate—and may wind up only sticking with the firm for a year.
The offer is the basis of what Greenberg is billing as a new residency program that is being rolled out across its 29 U.S. offices. Firm leaders envision the program as a way of recruiting talented associates it wouldn't have hired during the traditional on-campus interview process for one reason or another. It will also allow the firm to assign junior lawyers to client matters without billing their work at the usual cringe-inducing hourly rates.
Greenberg is simultaneously creating a new nonshareholder-track position, practice group attorney, that is akin to similar jobs created by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and others that have moved beyond the up-or-out structure typically employed by large law firms.
"Obviously law firms have been traditionally very slow to change," says Greenberg CEO Richard Rosenbaum. "As we’ve all seen and read, this is certainly a time where change is way overdue in the way we hire, pay, and charge for lawyers at various levels, frankly."
Greenberg brought in 29 first-year associates this fall, compared to the 36 it hired last year and well off the 50-plus class sizes common before the recession. The firm did have good news for some of its Florida associates earlier this year, when it elevated starting salaries for those working in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to $145,000 from $125,000. Elsewhere in the country, Greenberg pays starting salaries of between $115,000 and $160,000, according to NALP's Directory of Legal Employers. Rosenbaum says there will be a "material difference" in the residents' salaries but declined to get more specific.
While Greenberg appears to be the first Am Law 200 firm to formally launch such a program, the concept isn't entirely new to the firm. Last year Fort Lauderdale shareholder Kara MacCullough, with the blessing of firm management, began hiring recent graduates into that office's corporate department to take on a similarly training-intensive job with the title of "fellow."
Like the attorneys entering the residency program, the fellows are hired on what amounts to a one-year trial basis at a lower billing rate and pay scale than a typical associate. Though the billable assignments the fellows have worked on don't differ much from those handled by the typical associate, MacCullough says, a third of their roughly 1,900 required hours per year can be spent on training.
The idea worked so well that MacCullough says other departments and offices took notice and hired their own fellows. Today, Fort Lauderdale—which otherwise hasn't hired first-year associates in a few years—has six junior lawyers in that role.
MacCullough says the fellows program benefits both recent law graduates and Greenberg. "I think it absolutely makes economic sense for the firm," she says, adding that clients have been eager to use the junior lawyers, who cost less than a typical associate, and have allowed them to sit in on meetings and calls—at no cost to the client—as part of their training. The rest of the training, MacCullough says, comes via online courses with the Practising Law Institute, the professional development courses the firm offers all associates, and extra "hands-on learning" with partners without concern about billing for the time.
With the firmwide residency initiative—spearheaded by Greenberg shareholder, vice president and treasurer Bradford Kaufman, who also heads the associate development program—each office will have the autonomy to decide how many residents it hires. Once the initial one-year period ends, residents will either become a regular-track associate, take on the new practice group attorney title, or leave the firm, Rosenbaum says.
In a legal market where postgraduation employment rates continue to plummet and summer associate class sizes keep contracting, the opportunity to be employed, even for a year, is likely to be a welcome one. And by looking in the local market to fill the residency positions, Greenberg intends to broaden its reach beyond the schools that it currently visits for on-campus interviews.
Take Grant Levine, who began working in Greenberg's Fort Lauderdale office as a corporate fellow in August after graduating first in his class at Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center, an American Bar Association–accredited law school that reported having 62 percent of its 2012 graduates employed in a job requiring passage of the bar exam.
"I didn’t go into law school with the expectation I’d be working at a large firm," says Levine, who knew he wanted to practice transactional work because of his prior career as an operations manager for a transportation logistics company. "When the opportunity arose, I took advantage of it."
Levine, who was introduced to Greenberg while interning there during two semesters at Nova, says the extra training has been critical. "I have opportunity to step back and learn what I’m working on," he says. "Coming in as a first-year without that training, I feel I would have been at a handicap."
Kaufman says he has already received positive feedback about the residency program from a number of legal educators he has gotten to know through his involvement in a Florida Bar Association committee called Vision 2016 that is studying the future of the legal profession.
Robert Jerry II, dean of University of Florida Levin College of Law, is one of those educators. "I think this is a very good idea, and something that on the law school side we consider to be a very viable way to facilitate the transition from law school into the practice," Jerry says. "There will be a number of students interested in this."
Both Rosenbaum and Kaufman say they are not worried about any resentment emerging between the firm's typical first-year associates and the new residents.
"This isn’t supposed to be some sort of second-class opportunity," Kaufman says. "What we’re trying to do is make sure we’re not losing the opportunity to bring in phenomenal legal talent because the marketplace is saying we don’t value recent grads any longer."
Adds Rosenbaum: "I don’t think any change is easy, but I think this is well worth implementing, rather than what most firms are doing right now, which is not hiring people."