Should You Hire a Graduate of the Law School Class of 2020?

California has joined the ranks of states temporarily allowing law school graduates to practice under the supervision of licensed attorneys without first passing the bar exam. This unprecedented situation gives rise to two related questions: Should you hire a graduate of the class of 2020? And if you do, how should you employ them?

The decision to hire any lawyer, including one fresh out of law school, should be client-centered. Some firms might be tempted to take advantage of the lower cost of a recent graduate. And too many firms hire (or decline to hire) out of habit. Given the economic uncertainties, it is critical to determine what your firm needs to serve its clients.

Too many law firms skip the seemingly bureaucratic step of writing detailed job descriptions that identify what they need from each role. Focus on the first six months.  This analysis might lead you to the conclusion that an experienced paralegal could deliver more for your budget than a freshly graduated lawyer. If you’re looking to delegate some of the workload initially taken on by partners so that they can instead dedicate more time to business development, that role may not require a law school education.

If you do determine that it’s in your firm’s interest to hire a law school graduate with essentially no experience, you need to be prepared to devote much more time and many more resources to training and onboarding than most firms are inclined to. As consultants to law firms, we often hear partners say that they want lawyers to do things in a very specific way and to also work with little supervision. This sentiment is the hallmark of poor management.

One of the biggest and most common mistakes firms make with new hires is failing to give timely and detailed feedback on the work product they turn in. If a new associate prepares a document and then the partner in charge of the case makes changes to it, that associate should have the chance to see what was changed and learn the reasoning behind it. If you want to maximize the impact of such training, don’t wait for a formal performance review.

Given that much, if not all, of the communication with new hires will now take place remotely, it is especially important to carefully select work assignments for new lawyers.  Ideally, you want to train a new lawyer with respect to skills that they will use repeatedly. If you include the time it takes to explain a project to a new lawyer and then to review and correct their work product, it is very likely that you could do it faster yourself. But that becomes less true as that lawyer completes similar tasks. That fact leads back to the question of the need to hire: Do you have enough work of a similar nature that will serve your clients?

If the answer to this question is yes and you are committed to training and communicating virtually, a graduate of the class of 2020 might be a good fit for you.

The Plight of Law Firm Marketing Departments

We’ve begun to see a disturbing trend in professional services as organizations respond to the economic impact of the coronavirus. Faced with an uncertain future and looking to cut costs wherever possible, some firms are trimming their marketing departments as a way to reduce expenses.

We are aware of at least one Am Law 200 firm that has frozen business development spending, including certain reimbursements for partners. Notably, some firms are going as far as to lay off or furlough their marketing teams, including senior officers.

This is a curious move. Billion-dollar entities should be able to afford to keep senior marketing officers on the payroll for a few months. Moreover, C-level executives have expertise and institutional knowledge that should make them valuable in a crisis and hard to replace.

Perhaps certain law firm managing partners are showing just how little they value their most senior administrative managers. Large law firms have historically favored paying lawyers and resisted paying top dollar to senior administrative managers. In a crisis, firms might be reverting back to this tendency, and the marketing department is bearing the brunt of administrative cost-cutting efforts. As hiring needs decline, it is possible that HR departments will be next to see cutbacks.

In many ways, it’s harder to lose the head of marketing (which is happening now) than to fire your 29th-most productive partner. That is why all of these reductions in law firm administrative management should serve as a warning to underperforming attorneys.  Given what large firms have demonstrated recently, no one should be shocked when firms go after senior lawyers, especially high-earning service partners in disfavored practice areas.