Deferred Associates: Eyes Open to a New Career Reality

Deferred Associates: Eyes Open to a New Career Reality

When law firms told newly hired associates that business had slowed and offered a “public interest option” for their  first year,  the move was thought to be temporary for most. Many new attorneys went this route, accepting $60-$80,000 to train by doing public service work for their favorite organization or non-profit. The salary—in many cases—was half of what the associates were expecting when accepting their initial offer from their new firm. Then again, recent law school grads all have friends whose offers were rescinded, so the public interest option looked great in comparison.
Now, both firms and recent graduates are surprised to find out how much many of these new attorneys are enjoying the public interest work.  In addition to handling rewarding assignments, when the public interest attorneys compare the number of hours they work each week to the excessive number their friends in firms put in, they are pleased to have missed out on the long hours.  The  ABA Journal  questions whether the public interest deferrals will backfire on firms who thought they could “reserve” good attorneys until the economy picks up.
Recent Georgetown Law School graduate Russ Ferguson noted in an opinion piece published by  The American Spectator,  that many of these associates are now “trying to find a way to stay in their public interest jobs, or at least a related field, and may have given up on law firm work forever.”   The public interest lawyers are already engaged in substantive legal work while many of their big firm counterparts spend twice as many hours each week doing document review and other entry-level tasks.
Ferguson adds, “These firms may have given associates a sweet deal in order to retain top talent; but that deal may be backfiring as more and more of those associates leave the firm for good.”