Monday, April 14, 2008

Associate Programs Feel the Pinch of Law Firm Budget Cuts

"Law Firms Curtail Associate Programs as Economy Slows," is the topic of a 4/14/08 article on page B1 of The Wall Street Journal.

As the economy slows, some firms are trimming expenses in the associate area. Examples include the law firm of Thelen Reid, which recently dismissed 26 associates from its staff of 550 lawyers. The firm also shortened its summer associate program from 8 to 11 weeks. Pillsbury Winthrop, an 800 attorney law firm based in New York, is also giving summer associates two weeks less time (from 12 to 10 weeks). Chicago-based Sonnenschein Nath actually rescinded offer letters to two summer associates and two first-year associates in the Charlotte, NC office.

A bottom line focus is absolutely essential, and cutting expenses is one way to manage personnel costs. A top line emphasis is also essential. More law firms should consider providing their associates with business development training as a means of opening additional avenues for new revenue.

Young lawyers a few years out of law school tend to have a strong electronic network of friends and acquaintances, even if they do spend a lot of hours behind a desk. This Facebook generation can tap into college chums and law school buddies who may be working at global Fortune 500 companies or fast-growing upstarts that need legal service.

Frequently associates simply don't know the basic steps of identifying an ideal client, determining legal needs, talking about possible solutions, or closing a sale. Investing in a few hours of business development training for associates is likely to generate a strong return on investment in the near term.

Now is a good time to get "all hands on deck" in looking for revenue opportunities.

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