Large Law Firms and Their Role in the Educational Continuum of Lawyers

By Patton, Paula A. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Large Law Firms and Their Role in the Educational Continuum of Lawyers


Patton, Paula A., Fordham Urban Law Journal


The business savvy and organizational mettle of the largest law firms in the nation is formidable. The top 100 law firms in the United States grossed nearly $42 billion in fiscal year 2003. (1) Average profits per partner were recorded as $930,700, a ten percent increase from 2002. (2) Median associate base salaries in firms of 501 or more lawyers were $165,000. (3)

Large law firms are well established as legal industry leaders. These firms are pioneering the business of law as an entrepreneurial venture and creating precedent and protocol for all firms. Virtually anything that these large law firms choose to accomplish they can achieve in exemplary fashion by allocating their resources, which include extraordinary intellect, seemingly unlimited manpower and financial clout.

Large law firms craft training and development programs that fit their individual business goals. These programs, which are administered and coordinated at all levels, are funded as an essential business priority, and positioned as an invaluable benefit for associates. Through these programs, firms are realizing improvements in client service and satisfaction, increased associate productivity, enhanced associate loyalty, and decreased malpractice risk.

This paper will examine the ways in which large law firms have served as educators and consider how their efforts might be enhanced.

I. THE LEGAL EDUCATION CONTINUUM: THE NECESSITY FOR CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION

When talking with law firm partners, it is not unusual to hear complaints that law graduates, even those graduating with honors from elite law schools, are not adequately prepared for the rigor and pace of law firm practice. This anecdotal evidence is supported by empirical data. According to the "MacCrate Report," "It]he lament of the practicing bar is a steady refrain: 'They can't draft a contract, they can't write, they've never seen a summons, the professors have never been inside a courtroom.'" (4)

To be fair, law schools do not claim to teach students how to be legal practitioners. They do not attempt to train students to market legal services, manage people, handle the unrelenting stress of practice, or run a business. (5) According to law schools, "we teach them to think, we're not trade schools, we're centers of scholarship and learning, practice is best taught by practitioners." (6) In fact, according to well-respected scholars, "law schools cannot reasonably be expected to shoulder the task of converting even very able students into full-fledged lawyers licensed to handle legal matters." (7)

Even though the practicing bar complains that law school graduates are unprepared for practice, large law firms--those with 101 or more attorneys--hire law graduates in droves. (8) In 1995, 25.8 percent of all ABA-accredited law school graduates acquiring jobs in law firms were employed by large firms. (9) In 2002, due in part to consolidation of the industry, 41.2 percent of all ABA-accredited law school graduates acquiring jobs in law firms were employed by large firms; (10) seventeen percent of those graduates who acquired jobs in law firms, ended up at the largest of the large firms, those with 501 or more attorneys. (11)

Large law firms have become central figures in the educational continuum of new lawyers, attempting to fill the enormous gap in associate skills and understandings which are revealed by immersion in practice. It is because of this gap that skills training and professional development have become standard components of law firm personnel management strategies. (12)

II. THE MOTIVATION FOR ASSOCIATE TRAINING

Associate training programs are not new, but the scope of the training that large law firms offer today is radically different from the training offered decades ago. (13) As recently as the 1980s, very few firms offered associate training programs, and those that did focused their training on technical legal skills, particularly in litigation. …

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