The Wall Street Journal Law Blog recently ran a piece on Debevoise & Plimpton and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom's moves to have a significant number of their junior associates complete four weeks of business training put on by Fullbridge. According to Above the Law, the Skadden associates will then spend a further month in training. This training will be costly: beyond the expense of the program itself, in-training associates will not be available for [as much] client work during the program.
Debevoise and Skadden are both top notch firms. Are institutions that produced such current elite lawyers as Margaret Andrews Davenport or Michael Harrell (Debevoise) and Peter Atkins or Lou Kling (Skadden) admitting that times have changed and there are better ways to train their people? Or is this a response to client pushback on use of junior associates? A number of articles have suggested that many clients are forbidding junior associates from working on their matters (e.g., WSJ, WSJ Law Blog). These clients feel they are paying to train junior associates, and that the junior associates are not sufficiently productive to justify their high cost. Junior associates are expensive.
Debevoise and Skadden's programs are an effort to make their junior associates more valuable and to justify their high billing rates. Making associates more knowledgable about the business context of their work should make them better lawyers. Long-term, this may help set Debevoise and Skadden apart. But more and better training doesn't solve a key part of the junior associate value problem: much of their work could be better done by (or with the assistance of) technology or others (i.e., in- and outsourcing).