June 6, 2013

BABCOCK: Our firm specializes in construction, and we’ve still got the traditional track of hiring associates out of law school. We try to train them with our own techniques and with our own background. We try to hire a lot of the law school graduates that also have a technical background in the construction industry. So we train them that way and just hope that the bigger firms don’t try to steal them from us. But that has happened in the past, too.

POS: We are still committed to bringing in first- and second-year law students, and training them through our summer program and getting them ready for associate years. And actually, we find in our firm that a lot of clients want the associates to be doing the work and the partners to be doing more oversight, as opposed to some of the experiences we’ve heard where the partners are doing the work and the associates have a lesser role.

LEITHEAD: I also serve as an adjunct professor at BYU and I can tell you the hiring is having a phenomenal impact in that you’ll see students coming out of law school without jobs, more inclined, I guess, to hang up their own shingle or to go into other alternative areas.

In the past, the people in the top 10 or so of the class could always get jobs. That’s not true anymore. Both at Utah and BYU, you see people graduating at the top of their class without a job. So certainly the economy is still having significant impacts on hiring.

TOMSIC: We kind of have a hybrid system at our firm. We don’t traditionally bring in summer associates, but we have been hiring people directly out of law school. We have two approaches to that. First, we’ve made a decision to eat the cost of having young associates attend hearings, depositions, with the idea that if you pay up front, at the back end of it you’re going to get a reward in terms of their training.

The second thing that we’ve done is mentoring. I’m a mentor and I spend a lot of time with the young associates, training them, taking them to things that I’m doing, sitting down with them once a week, going over the rules of professional responsibility, civil procedure, that type of thing. We think that pays off by having well-trained young people coming up through the ranks. We’ve got front-end lawyers, litigators, who can go out and do the front-end things, but we need people coming up and being trained to do it as we expand our practice.

CATAXINOS: We still have a traditional track also. The majority of our associates come up through the ranks because in our area of practice, patent law, it requires quite a bit of training.

We also looked at a lot of laterals in the past, but what you’re seeing these days, because of the recession and a lot of people hanging up their own shingle, we might see an associate two, three years out of school that really doesn’t have all that much experience or has done something else. So it becomes a little bit more challenging to look at the laterals. You have to dig a little bit deeper.

I’m intrigued by this fear of bringing in an associate, training them and then losing them after they’re trained. How do you build loyalty so they don’t then leave for another firm?

PINEGAR: I teach down at BYU also, and I asked my students, “How would you characterize your generation?” And the word “loyalty” was the first thing out of their mouths. They said, “We don’t expect loyalty from the law firm and so we don’t expect to have to give any loyalty to the law firm.”

I was kind of stunned by that. We talked about how to change that, and in their minds, it really focused on not just what are you telling me the future is, but what kind of tangible evidence can you give me that this really is going to be my practice, that this is really going to happen?

LORIMER: We see the same problem. Many of the upcoming generation don’t seem to have the concept of what loyalty really means to a firm. You have to go back to the fundamentals and doing what Peggy was talking about a minute ago—you have to mentor these people, you have to spend time with them, you have to show them that you really care about the fact that they know what they’re doing, that it’s more than just a billable hour. I hope eventually that will bear fruit. Because money won’t do it.

GAYLORD: Loyalty also has a different perspective on it, though. Ballard is a national firm, and it sometimes can be criticized because it’s harder to make partner. But if you treat your associates with the kind of respect that they are entitled to and show that you have the loyalty of trying to bring them along, even if they aren’t going to make that leap into the partnership ranks, there’s always the opportunity they’re going to go somewhere else. And if they go somewhere else, you want to have an associate—for example, if they go in-house—to be your ally. So if you make them your ally as an associate, you hope that that alliance continues.

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