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The Role Of BigLaw Associate Is Changing, And Here's How

Aebra Coe Law360.com

Many BigLaw firms expect more technical expertise and business development skills from newly minted associates than they once did as practices strive to get ahead in a legal market in which clients are tightening their belts.

In a world where in-house lawyers, alternative legal service providers and legal technologies are performing a number of tasks that were once the responsibility of junior associates, law firms and associates themselves have had to redefine what they do and the role they play in their practices.

“Clients have made it clear post-recession that they’re not interested in paying more than they absolutely have to. They’re not interested in paying for associates to be trained [or] for activities that can be produced at a lower cost,” said Michelle Fivel, a partner at legal recruiting firm Major Lindsey & Africa.

Tasks such as document review are now often outsourced, and associates are spending more time on “substantive” work that can be billed to clients, Fivel said.

“There is definitely a focus on making associates profitable as quickly as possible,” she said.

One impact of that shift, according to Fivel, is that law firms now provide more internal training and also perform more thorough vetting in the recruiting process as they look to hire associates. The goal is to ensure the firm is getting associates who are ready to hit the ground running and who are profitable soon after they’re hired, she said.

Hiring partners are also asking pointed questions about the candidates’ experience on specific types of work, she said.

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