April 12, 2012

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Utah Lawyers Compete for Clients, Top Grads

Di Lewis

April 12, 2012

Top law graduates are still in demand, despite an oversupply of graduates nationally, and big firms continue to see more price competition, said a group of attorneys at the Utah Business legal roundtable Tuesday morning.

Moderator Stephen Owens, partner at Epperson & Owens, asked the group whether Utah law schools are doing a good job of placing graduates.

Steven Clyde, Clyde Snow & Sessions vice president and director, said he has been impressed with local law schools. The schools don’t seem to be overstating the job placement of graduates or other numbers, he said.

Students are coming out of law school better trained than when he went to school, Clyde said. “They have a lot more clinical and hands-on experience coming out of school and they can hit the ground running a lot faster than we ever did.”

Despite that good training, Clyde said his firm hasn’t hired graduates in two years, but is looking at doing so this year.

Part of the problem, said Rand Bateman, Bateman IP president, is hiring new attorneys requires enough time to train them, and that creates a money-losing situation. That’s why Bateman has been hiring people with a couple years experience.

The slower hiring is not for lack of applicants, said Catherine Larson, president and managing shareholder at Strong & Hanni. Many firms are being conservative in their hiring, especially during the downturn, and graduates are competing for every open position.

“We’re the beneficiaries of some very bright and talented law students that are coming out of the schools. We try to continue to hire from Utah and BYU, although we are getting resumes from top-tier students from top-tier schools all over the country,” Larson said. “And there are people out there willing to do internships, willing to just volunteer their time. They’re willing to do almost anything to just get into the workforce in law.”

However, graduates are also changing in lifestyle preferences. Many attorneys said firms are now offering flex- and part-time work options to better accommodate the changing desires of new attorneys.

The other challenge firms face is with billing. Clients increasingly request flat fees and set budgets, which puts more pressure on firms when something ends up requiring more time than expected.

Clyde said other firms have outbid his firm, and he thinks clients are not seeing the value of well-trained attorneys and quality work. By chasing the lowest billable hour, he said people end up paying more because a less-qualified attorney will take more time to do the same work.

The Legal Roundtable will appear in the June issue of Utah Business magazine.

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