Posted By: Nick Miller, Partner, Miller & Van Eaton
The economic news for local governments and their attorneys has not been good. Big time cutbacks in local budgets have forced major changes in the law offices advising local governments. In the midst of this economic detritus, some good news is emerging.
Much like the middle income families that can now afford to buy houses that are in foreclosure, City Attorney offices may now have the chance to attract and hold some of the very best new lawyers graduating this June. We all know the big law firms have driven associate salaries far beyond government salare levels and the big firms have thereby discouraged many young attorneys from pursuing public service careers. Now the economy is forcing the large firms to change their hiring patterns. And the door may be opening for government law offices to compete on equal footing for this young talent.
Recent news headlines on law firms have focused on the tragedy of job losses and personal tragedies among recently fired attorneys. This is grim, heart-rending news. But underneath these headlines is a less reported trend. The biggest firms are changing their offers to third year law students and first year attorneys. They are deferring start dates for new attorneys, in many cases until January 2010 or even June 2010. And they are rolling back associate starting salaries to levels comparable to the late 1990’s.
This change offers City Attorneys the chance to compete more equally for this talent pool. Local government law has always had the attractive qualities of public service, challenging and wide ranging legal issues, and family-friendly working hours. To this list can now be added competitive compensation, and a chance to try public service before stepping into 2400 hours/year work environs.
The salary picture is better for three reasons. Associate salaries are being rolled back o levels comparable to the late 1990’s. Also most of the large firms are offering to pay the deferred attorneys some portion (often 50%) of the normal first year salary in return for accepting the delayed start date. And the over-enrollment of attorneys in the big firms means many firms will not object if a first year attorney decides to not pursue the big firm job, even after accepting the deferred compensation for several months.
So now is the time to reach out to your local law school placement offices. And reach out to your colleagues in larger firms. Tell them you are looking to help June graduates or 2008 deferred graduates find useful legal work.