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If an associate leaves, should the law firm absorb all costs of replacement?

Bottomline Technologies, a vendor of a matter management plus e-billing system, takes a clear position on who should bear the cost of turnover within a law firm. According to the ACC Docket, May 2006 at 70, “If a lawyer leaves the firm, the firm must absorb the time incurred in bringing the replacement lawyer up to speed on the file. This time is nonbillable.”

Although I am a staunch supporter of law departments, this fiat seems harsh. Associates leave law firms for many reasons that are beyond the control of the law firm; to saddle the firm with the full cost of replacing the departed associate is unfair. This situation is unlike churn, where a law firm uses a series of associates, or drive by billing where people plop in only an hour or two on a file.

Dare we wonder whether the client’s own boorish behavior might have precipitated the associates departure?