Why don’t at least some firms facing this non-trivial decision declare moral victory and announce that henceforth their policy is to invest in associate training and development in a serious, programmatic, and sustained way.  Because of the money they’ll be spending on training and the accelerated career development their associates will experience, with lower billable hour expectations, they will offer a new choice in the marketplace of entry-level legal recruiting: You can go to the Big Dog firms, get paid handsomely and be worked to death; or you can come here and trade the top-of-market paycheck for true immersive professional development.  

Previously, our hypothetical recruiting target was offered the other side of the firms’ “trivial” set of choices: Go to as prestigious a firm as would have you and get paid top of market, or, if that option was shut off to you, go to a less prestigious firm for less money and probably be worked to death anyway.  Some choice. (By the way, this exposes to the light of day the reason partners who grouse about how sensitive associates are to pay differentials are wrong-headed to complain: If a difference of $5,000 [say] is all the hypothetical associate can see, then that’s good and sufficient reason right there.)

But now our target has a real choice: Get paid top of market and earn every penny slogging away while being trained in the “sink or swim” school of life, or opt for a small short-term sacrifice in terms of compensation (“short-term” in the arc of a 40-year career), but actually learn what this lawyering stuff is all about in a focused, real-world way that no law school has ever tried to teach and no law professor should ever be trusted to try to teach.

But maybe I’m dreaming.

In the meantime, the message from the elite market leaders to everyone else is clear.  We have re-drawn a key financial line in the sand.  Cross over to our side if you dare.


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