Vol. 85, No. 5, May 2012
A large Wisconsin law firm no longer hires associates right out of law school. It looks for laterals: attorneys who have been in practice and have a book of business. Another firm will bring in only one clerk this summer instead of the 15 or more it used to hire.
These tactics (and these firms are not alone) were confirmed recently in an article by Jordan Furlong, an attorney and consultant with Edge International, a virtual, international consultancy to law firms. There is no main office. And that is kind of the point of this column: the world is very different than it was not too long ago.
In "Why Are You Recruiting?," in the March 2012 issue of Edge Internal Communique, Furlong argues that recruiting out of law school only to train and then watch the majority of the recruits leave before becoming partners is no longer a viable model. Instead, he argues, you should recruit out of law school only individuals who you can almost guarantee will become partners. For the rest, bring tomorrow's champions in laterally. He often hears, "Without heavy first-year recruitment, where will tomorrow's lawyers get the experience they need?" He counters, "With respect, that's not your problem."
That is where state bars come into play and why the State Bar of Wisconsin's strategic plan now has "Plan the future of the legal profession" as one of its three strategic priorities. A task force created by President Brennan and supported by President-elect Klein embodies the effort to develop recommendations for training new lawyers to succeed in the changing marketplace. Chaired by Board of Governors member Art Harrington and Young Lawyers Division president Sherry Coley, the task force has only begun its efforts to enhance what the State Bar already is doing for new lawyers.
The idea to take charge of the development of the practice rather than just wait for things to happen had its genesis in the report of the Challenges to the Profession Committee of the State Bar Board of Governors. "The New Normal: The Challenges Facing the Legal Profession" focuses on three areas: economic challenges, technology challenges, and challenges facing young lawyers. The report reviews the impact of globalization and outsourcing, third-party litigation financing, alternative billing methods, training of new lawyers, court funding, and more. It's available at www.wisbar.org/reports/challenges2011 and I encourage you to read it. The bibliography alone is a wake-up call.
Change is racing toward the legal profession. From third-party investment in law firms in England and Australia, to virtual law firms, to off-shoring in India and Africa, to large firms outsourcing to small firms in the United States, the future is here. Your State Bar wants you to be prepared.