Law Firms Keep Squeezing Associates

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Law firms are finally starting to recover from the recession, but they aren't taking their young lawyers along for the ride.

Even as profits return, cautious partners with one eye on damaged balance sheets and the other on stingy clients plan to hang onto the lean silhouettes they acquired during the downturn.

That means little relief for young associates—who took on hefty law-school loans, only to run into layoffs and stagnant pay in the years since 2008—and fewer chances for new law-school graduates to get in on the ground floor. And the elusive brass ring of partnership has grown more remote.

"What happens if Greece falls apart again?" says Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner at Paul Hastings LLP, an international firm that has reduced entry-level hires by about a third since 2008. "We just think it's prudent to plan as if this coming year is going to be a relatively flat year.…We're not planning for a big upsurge in demand."

Conditions at law firms have stabilized since 2009, when the legal industry shed 41,900 positions, according to the Labor Department. Cuts were more moderate last year, with some 2,700 positions eliminated, and recruiters report more opportunities for experienced midlevel associates.

But many elite firms have shrunk their ranks of entry-level lawyers by as much as half from 2008, when market turmoil was at its peak. Salaries and bonuses for those associates have remained generally flat. Meanwhile, a degree at a top law school can cost $100,000 or more.

Associates at prominent law firms say some of their peers hired during the boom years are happy just to have jobs at all. "The world has changed," says a senior associate at a top firm.

Read full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203363504577186913589594038.html

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