Law Firms Deferring Start Dates For New Hires

By Staff
October 7, 2009

The economic downturn is causing law firms to delay employment start dates for their new hires--and sometimes indefinitely. reports that for the second time, Chadbourne & Parke LLP deferred the full-time start dates for half of the lawyers it hired from the class of 2009. Originally, 25 students were scheduled to begin work at the firm in January 2010, and all were given a $13,000 stipend. But only half will begin employment as planned, while the start dates for the rest are being postponed indefinitely. They will receive an additional stipend of $60,000 this February.

The Wall Street Journal reports that many new lawyers faced with deferred start dates are seeking interim work ranging from temporary jobs for their alma maters to waitressing or bartending. Law school career advisers, meanwhile, are urging students to take whatever work is available to help make ends meet.

"I told them they need to do anything to keep from putting their rent on their credit cards," said Melissa Lannon, assistant dean for the office of career planning at Temple University's Beasley School of Law, "and they should not feel ashamed about that."

Rosemary McKenna, for example, who graduated from Temple's law school in May, will be working as a hostess in a Philadelphia restaurant until she starts work at Blank Rome LLP in January. Unlike some deferred attorneys, she won't receive a stipend for the months she is not employed with the firm.

Other new lawyers, like those at Chadbourne, are receiving stipends that can range from $45,000 to $90,000 annually. While the stipends are arguably respectable starting salaries, they amount to as little as one-third of what a first-year lawyer typically earns at a large firm.

"A lot of people are really just depressed about the whole situation," said Joe Records, who was quoted in Washingtonian. He had his start date at the DC-based law firm Wiley Rein delayed until next fall.

But not all the news is bad. Washingtonian notes that some firms are requiring or encouraging deferred attorneys to spend their time working at public-interest organizations while providing stipends of about $60,000.

"For a smaller nonprofit organization, $60,000 might be close to what the executive director makes," pointed out Steve Grumm, director of public-service initiatives for the National Association of Law Placement, which helped connect the deferred associates with public-interest jobs.

And a lucky few--such as those employed at the law firm WilmerHale--are being given the option to delay their start dates for a year in exchange for a $75,000 stipend, with no requirement for public-interest work. According to Carol Clayton, assistant managing partner at the firm, about half of the incoming associates in DC agreed to take the year off, with several choosing to work at nonprofit legal organizations.

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