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Firms weigh up start dates

Firms weigh up start dates

Lawyer start date deferrals have become the money-saver of the hour for firms. But not everyone is taken with the idea.

GRADUATE and associate start date deferrals have become the money-saver of the hour for many law firms struggling to reduce costs in the global downturn. 

But a number of firms have spoken out against the practice, claiming there is enough work to around for this level of lawyer. 

Mega firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore announced last week it would pay $US80,000 ($100,740), plus health coverage and loan repayment stipends, to new associates who take optional yearlong deferrals and start in 2010. 

The American Lawyer reports, however, that apart from Cravath, the top 10 most profitable partnerships in the US are taking a different approach. 

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges; Boies, Schiller & Flexner; Sullivan & Cromwell; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Kirkland & Ellis; and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton are starting all of their associates next fall as originally scheduled.

"Our start date is, and has always been, September for new associates," said a spokesperson for Paul Weiss. "There will be no optional deferrals."

But incongruity exists with the top 10 grossing law firms in the US. Of the top 10 Am Law 100 firms by revenue, only Jones Day and Kirkland & Ellis will be starting all associates on time. 

"We will be starting all 152 associates in November and are not deferring associates or offering a stipend for a year of nonprofit work," a Kirkland spokesperson told American Lawyer.

In the United Kingdom, city law firms have been offering some recruits up to £10,000 to delay starting their training contracts

Norton Rose this year asked 55 trainees to postpone commencing work at the firm as long as they do something "meaningful and constructive" with the 12 months off.

DLA Piper, Baker & McKenzie, and Penningtons are offering trainees at least £5,000 ($10,230) to defer, even if it meant the recruits work for other law firms as paralegals during that time.

Andrea Law, training and graduate recruitment manager at Penningtons, told Personnel Today that more than one-third of the 2009 recruitment class had accepted the offer, and that it would be left open for the foreseeable future.

"It's completely voluntary, and still four of our 11 recruits for 2009 have accepted, which is good news," she said.

The UK-based Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), meanwhile, turned its back on hundred of would-be lawyers facing having their start dates withdrawn or delayed when it refused to intervene, claiming the current wave of deferrals experienced by students is an employment issue and should be sorted out between the grads and the firms. 

"The SRA sympathises with the disappointment felt by trainees who are faced with having to defer - or in some cases even lose - their training contracts due to the economic downturn However, unfortunately this is an employment issue and as such falls outside the remit of our regulatory role," The Lawyer reported.

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