Saturday, April 11, 2009
Will work for . . . (part two)
In an earlier post I noted that a number of recent conversations with upperclassmen have left me wondering—and to an extent worrying—about state of the job market for those students as well as for recent graduates. In addition to the LRAP issue mentioned in that post, the effect of downsizing measures being employed by Biglaw and other legal employers is another concern for these students.
I confess I do not understand the propensity of firms to engage in wave-like layoffs of associates (and staff). When I was in private practice in NYC, post-9/11 layoffs occurred in a similar, if less extensive, manner as the type I am observing now. Once things got back on course, firms scrambled to refill their ranks. It seems to me that a more appropriate strategy would be to simply lower the salaries of associates and to either lower salaries or cut hours for staff. Why appropriate? For one, it would serve to build loyalty—an arguably desirable quality lacking in the current Biglaw environment. For another, it would demonstrate a considered, long-term approach to periods of economic difficulty, one focused on the health of the business over a significant trajectory, as opposed to a more reactionary response to a troubled climate. I’m not an economist by any means; this is just my (decidedly humble) opinion. There are those who support a similar line of thinking in this and other professions, however, notwithstanding the fact that law firms do in fact save quite a bit through layoffs. (Another advantage of adjusting the payment structure could be the effect such a restructuring could have on the Biglaw work/lifestyle. It may very well serve as the impetus for a much needed overhaul of the billable hour model and the concomitant hours put in by associates—a potential topic for another post.)
So, what does this mean for recent law graduates and those who will soon join them? To state the obvious, they’re existing in/entering an uncertain world, one which might require them to consider, rather quickly, alternatives to planned career paths. More measured cost-cutting approaches by Biglaw and other employers could serve to aid the needs of those ventures in this economy while still bringing in (and perhaps more importantly, training) talented, eager associates and helping to avoid the glut that they would create in the market.
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