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Baker & McKenzie Nukes 11 Deferred Associates

Vivia Chen

June 24, 2010

Fotolia_15841146_XS-CROPPED It's been an awful week for deferred associates. First, I blogged about how McDermott Will dropped three deferred associates into the lowly ranks of discovery lawyers. Then, just a day ago, I blogged about the apprentice programs that replaced the traditional first-year associate positions at Howrey, Drinker Biddle, and Frost Brown. 

I was pretty hard on those programs, because they seemed like bait-and-switch routines. But those programs now look kind and compassionate--compared to what has happened to the remaining deferred associates at Baker & McKenzie. 

As Above the Law reports, 11 people in Baker's last batch of deferred associates are officially out on the street. But as ATL reminds us, Baker gave them "an ominous warning" as far back as last September, when the firm cautioned that their $5,000-a-month stipend and benefits would end in June, and that "absent a major bump in work," the "relationship" would end completely.

I contacted Baker, and the firm sent me the same statement it gave to ATL: 

Our New York office has been unable to accommodate 11 first-year associates from the class of 2009 who had been put on hold this past January. As a result, these individuals will not be starting at the firm. We regret having to make this decision, but unfortunately the work required for these individuals has not materialized to a sufficient degree. At this time, more than 30 new associates from the 2009 class whose start dates were deferred are now working in our North American offices, while seven are on client secondments.

It's too bad that Baker wouldn't speak with me on this issue, especially since the firm was so nice to me two years ago when I attended its international partnership meeting in Barcelona. Back then, its chairman, John Conroy, Jr., and other partners couldn't have been more accessible and charming.

Of course, those were better times, when the economy was flush. But as The American Lawyer reported in May, Baker's profits per partner dropped nearly 18 percent last year, to $992,000, "below the psychologically important $1 million mark." On the plus side, it had the highest gross revenue ($2.11 billion) among The Am Law 100, beating out Skadden, Arps for the number one spot. 

One cheerless Baker casualty told ATL: "They could have tried to start all of us and put us on a half-the- time, half-the-salary plan (like the Baker S.F. and D.C. offices). They could have tried to help us find new jobs by hiring us as contract attorneys or using their extensive network to assist in placement."

Maybe the firm explored those options. I don't know, because the firm is keeping mum. What's puzzling is that this global giant of nearly 4,000 lawyers couldn't find room for 11 deferred associates somewhere among its far-flung offices.

Let's just hope that Baker is suspending on-campus recruiting--at least for its U.S. offices--this year. It might not be a good time to sell students on its strong global network.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: pressmaster / Fotolia.com


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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