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A tough message from law departments regarding inexperienced law-firm associates

Summarized in ACC Docket, Vol. 25, May 2007 at 12, the 2006 ACC/Serengeti Managing Outside Counsel Survey compiles data from hundreds of ACC law departments. This year’s data reinforces my earlier comments on the predecessor survey (See my posts of Nov. 8, 2005 about law departments hiring only experienced lawyers; and Nov. 21, 2005 on imposing staffing models.).

According to the most recent results, “About 24% of law departments now require a minimum level of associate experience. The average level of associate experience required has leveled off at 5 years (up from 3 years in 2000).” This finding is most surprising.

Undeniably, law departments look askance at novice lawyers who sport high billing rates and high billable hour goals (See my post of Feb. 8, 2006 on more complaints about associate rates than partner rates; of April 30, 2006 on low worth ascribed to associates; Feb. 28, 2006 about complaints over associate compensation, Nov. 21, 2005 on imposed staffing profiles, May 30, 2005 about hiring only partners; Nov. 19, 2005 about USF&G using only partners; Nov. 8, 2005 on minimum experience requirements for associates and Feb. 4, 2007 on ratios; May 5, 2006 on “uncommitted associates“; Jan. 20, 2006 on the ratio between associate costs to firms and their revenue; Feb. 20, 2007 and March 11, 2007 on associate attrition rates.).

It’s not a question of years out of law school; it is a question of the amount of experience an associate has with the particular type of legal work the law department needs done.