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Should Law Students Pay Law Firms for Training?

"If associates get all the benefits of training at my law firm in the first three years, and can't really add much value anyway, why don't they pay us?"

That's the question that Dan Hull asks in this provocative post at What About Clients?.

So, here's the strategy that Hull envisions.  Rather than pay new hires those stratospheric salaries that have given law firms buyer's remorse, Hull suggests that associates work for minimal salaries in exchange for the benefit of receiving valuable legal training:

A "trainee": (1) would be paid either very minimal or at most starting paralegal-level salaries--don't laugh, paralegals are often remarkably more valuable and cost-efficient than first-year associates--and perhaps some other benefits; or (2) actually pay the law firm a nominal stipend--a "tuition", in effect--in a flexible apprenticeship arrangement which could be revisited eventually. At a minimum, making the associate bear the risk of the investment in his or her training might have the effect of deterring some new grads who were just biding time, or perhaps clearly not going to stick around after debts were paid off, from going to the law firm in the first place. It might force some new lawyers to choose.

So why would associates, accustomed to higher salaries, be willing to settle for this new system?  Because ultimately, the system benefits associates argues Hull, by giving them experience that they can use if they choose to remain at their existing firm or take to another position.  By contrast, under the present law firm model, associates may pay down law school debt early in their career or rack up some savings, but after three years, they're not much more marketable than when they started.

Has your firm ever considered this type of approach to compensation?  And if you're a recent grad, would this new model appeal to you?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 28, 2008 at 01:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)


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