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A New Tier of Law Firm Jobs?

Staff attorneys -- lawyers who handle discovery matters or supervise contract attorneys -- aren't a new phenomenon at large firms; as far as I can recall, they've been around for at least a decade.  However, as this post from Above the Law suggests, staff attorney positions have ordinarily been reserved for those attorneys who don't have the credentials demanded by a top job at Biglaw.  (For the record, I'm not saying that staff attorneys are less intelligent or capable, it's just that they don't have the kinds of stats required to play on the Biglaw A Team.)  What seems to be different about staff attorney positions now, if I'm understanding this story (11/2/07) correctly is that firms are now touting the positions not as a consolation prize for the less qualified, but rather, as a desirable slot for lawyers who want to achieve work/life balance.

As the article reports, McDermott, Will & Emory recently decided to create a new tier of attorneys -- analogous to permanent contract associates -- who will handle lower-end tasks like discovery at lower billing rates.  The new class of full-timers is intended to allow the firm to keep costs low for litigation clients, without resorting to transient measures such as offshoring or continued use of contract attorneys where firms may have difficulty in ensuring quality control.

But what's most interesting is that the firm isn't interested in new grads to fill the staff attorney positions.  Instead, MWE's ideal candidates are:

lawyers "with good pedigrees" who have practiced for a few years but don't want to deal with big-firm hours...Instead, they'll put in more like 30-40 hours, and be paid something like 25 percent less, though an exact pay range hasn't been decided.

With so many lawyers, particularly women, avid for reentry, MWE's re-packaging of these once maligned staff attorney positions into something desirable is utterly ingenious. 

But will the MWE model work better than the traditional outsourcing or offshoring approach that other firms are examining? According to this post at the Legal Pad, at companies like New York-based Global Solutions, the Indian attorneys who are employed for document review are "hand picked, cream of the crop," often with LLMs and MBAs.  However, Susan Cartier Liebel wonders if it's necessary to go overseas for qualified lawyers to handle outsourcing or document review, when many new solos in the U.S. are not only highly capable, but also willing to take on this work to generate cash as they get their practices off the ground.

Which business model do you think works best?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on November 2, 2007 at 03:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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