A number of corporations are taking steps to restrict which of the associates at their outside firms work for them, according to the Managing Outside Counsel Survey Report prepared by the Association of Corporate Counsel and Serengeti Law of Bellevue, Washington in late 2006.  In some cases, corporations specify that only attorneys with at least five years of experience be assigned to their matters.

Given the billable-hour fee structure that most firms retain, if such requests become a trend, it could play havoc with the traditional law firm business model. Currently, firms hire three times or more the number of associates that the firm expects to stay, immediately putting those young associates on clients matters in order to push down less complicated work, provide training and make a proving ground to determine who should stay and who shouldn’t.  OK, let’s admit it:  and also maybe sometimes to plump up some of those thinner bills.

If clients start demanding only more senior lawyers on their matters, the high cost of young associates would immediately become much higher, since it would be even longer before they could reasonably be expected to produce a return on the firm’s investment in them.

Of course, one way to counter such a trend would be to use a more carefully calibrated hiring process that relies less on "where ever the outstanding offer chips may fall," and more on knowing the best fit for the firm.  We at RRR advocate the use of culture and personal style inventories as a way to fully understand your firm’s prevailing attitudes, values and attributes and also to identify the areas where it needs to grow or broaden.  

Aggressively pursuing those candidates who meet that profile not only results in spot-on hires more likely to contribute from day one, but also produces a mountain of "I’m special– you really-really-like-me" feelings in your incoming class that could make even Sally Field shed a tear, and also produce the kind of we’re-made-for-each-other associate loyalty that not many firms currently enjoy.

Targeted hiring should then be followed by an equally targeted training program of the sort that few firms currently offer.   Information gleaned from the inventories would make this training much more efficient, so as not to necessarily require more time.   We at RRR also offer targeted associate training in the areas of understanding the business of law, professional performance and career development, business development, client relationship management and communication, among others.   

Together, these two strategies–targeted hiring and targeting training– are likely to produce young lawyers who are valuable to clients and profitable to their firm.