“Big Law Layoffs Look to Correct ‘Over-Hiring'”: Did Those Associates Have the Qualifications to Begin With?


The Point

1. After two years of white-hot demand for their services, Bloomberg Law’s recent headline says demand for the junior lawyers who work as employees of big law firms (“associates”) is taking a sharp downward turn.

2. Even without the Pandemic’s boom / bust impacts on the legal market, the vast majority of such associates end up as short-termers who spend about six or fewer years at firms that nevertheless charge hundreds per hour for their work.

3. Those law firms lack an incentive to invest robustly in the average associate’s professional development, because most associates won’t become partners.

4. So the hundreds per hour charged for such associates’ time pays for the services of young attorneys who too often have been given only ad hoc preparation — who are “supervised” by one, two, or even three levels of attorneys senior to them — with consequent wasteful duplication.

This Matters to Your Business

Fred Bartlit, former head of litigation at one of the country’s most prominent law firms, put it this way:

“In big law firms, their models have been to keep associates inexperienced. Big firms would hire 200 associates, and eight or nine years later, there would be four or five left. There was no incentive to mentor, because almost no one was permanent.”

Bartlit left large his law firm to found BartlitBeckLLP, a law firm that’s inverted the big law firm model to hire law school graduates with the intent to eventually make each a partner of the firm (its current partner-to-associate ratio: 3 partners for every one associate).

As an example of its approach to developing long-term lawyers, BarlitBeckLLP pioneered an arrangement with a Chicago utility by which its new associates defended slip-and-fall accident cases in court under close guidance of experienced trial counsel. The utility received powerful courtroom representation. And the associates learned firsthand how to try cases to a successful verdict or beneficial settlement.

BartlitBeckLLP has been able to invest serious time and money into development of its associates, because they consider those associates future partners — not short-termers who will soon be out the door.

Because …

It’s up to management to keep track of who is doing their legal work, and consider if the business is being well-served by the best professional for the task at hand. Not, instead, being pawned off on recent law graduates to maximize their law firms’ billings.

In paying hundreds per hour for the work of such associates, business clients are not getting what they might think they are paying for. Big Law is an unparalleled source of top-flight experts — deeply experienced partners whose careers have been devoted to their fields. But for lower-skilled legal tasks, or when the legal job calls for process efficiencies, relying on Big Law to have these associates do the work is a questionable decision.

Contact Information