Much Shelist Shines with Innovative Apprenticeship Program
Nancy Glazer is Manager of Legal Launch, LLC. The dual goals of Legal Launch LLC are to connect attorneys with exceptional career opportunities and to bring top legal talent to law firms, corporations and legal organizations.
As a career counselor for attorneys and a legal recruiter for firms and companies, I am frequently asked to speak about the state of our profession and the outlook for its future. We saw how our economy in 2008 changed the global markets and the legal industry in particular, also changing life as we knew it from that year forward.
One of the most significant changes in the legal industry post-2008 was that firms, corporations and the government slowed hiring -- dramatically. Summer Associate programs were scaled, nearly all hiring froze and recent law school graduates were forced to fend for themselves in any way they could to find work, legal or otherwise.
That’s the negative. I prefer to accentuate the positive.
In the here and now, 2014, the Chicago and national legal markets have opened up to some degree. It’s still not the robust economic climate of pre-2008, but firms have been steadily putting their toes back in the water, hiring again. The lateral market has improved tremendously in recent years.
For many firms that are still not yet in a position to hire laterally or to hire out of law school, there are alternatives. The most innovative, the alternative that creates a win-win for everyone involved, is the simple Apprenticeship model. The medical profession and many others adopted this model many years ago. (Donald Trump, in my view, does not do it a service.)
Take for example, the program created by Chicago’s Much Shelist, a medium-sized business and full service law firm. Unlike most firms that curtailed their Summer Associate programs, Much Shelist discontinued its summer program years prior. However, during the fall of 2011, firm leaders began to consider the idea of offering a few law school graduates a solid foundation in law. By the end of 2011, Much Shelist created and implemented its pilot Apprenticeship Program.
Here's the idea:
• A firm/company can have a few apprentice attorneys -- or even just one.
• The apprentice attorney would be required to bill clients for some of her time (60 - 80% would be a target range). The remainder of her time would be dedicated to non-billable activities -- doing legal pro bono work, co-authoring legal articles, and/or attending client meetings, court proceedings or closings.
• The apprentice attorney would be paid a "partial salary" during the apprenticeship year (or number of months).
• At the close of the year, the firm would decide whether to make an offer of full time employment to the apprentice attorney.
However controversial some may find this arrangement, as one in the legal job market’s trenches, I feel strongly that it is a win-win for everyone involved. The law firm gets a honeymoon period with a recent law school graduate, gets to train him, and then has the option whether to extend an offer of more permanent employment. The apprentice attorney receives coveted training, prestige and some measure of pay. This is all done in a cost-effective way, adopting the medical school-to-practice model. (No one questions the medical model.)
In fact, anecdotal evidence shows that clients have loved the Apprenticeship model. Of course, clients recognize that the firm is meeting their needs without charging them for attorney training. What’s not to like?
In December, 2012, Much Shelist extended an offer of full time employment to its apprentice attorney, Caroline E. Belloff. Ms. Belloff graduated from the University of Illinois College Of Law and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She now practices in the firm's Business & Finance group, working with corporate clients on mergers, acquisitions, dispositions and other major corporate transactions.
The Apprenticeship Program was valuable to her in that she originally thought she wanted to practice litigation; by working in Much Shelist’s different practice areas, she found that her skills were better suited in the corporate transaction arena. “The best part of the program was the ability to work with so many attorneys in different practice areas.” Caroline is now thriving at Much Shelist, grateful to all of the attorneys she worked with who helped her discover her own strengths.
Jennifer G. Gallinson, Director of Attorney Recruitment & Professional Development at Much Shelist and a developer of the program likes how firm attorneys have contributed to Caroline’s professional growth; they, too, have been ignited by a desire to mentor.* Ms. Gallinson states, “The gift of giving back has benefitted the entire firm and rekindled a mentoring spirit, only adding to our delivery of outstanding service to our clients.”
*If you are considering adding an apprentice attorney to your firm or corporate legal department, Nancy Glazer can help you establish a program and recruit top candidates at an affordable flat rate. Nancy can be contacted through her web site, www.LegalLaunch.net or by email, Nancy@LegalLaunch.net
In addition, if your firm is not in a position to provide professional development training for an apprentice attorney, Nancy can make some referrals to exceptional practitioners to assist with attorney training.