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The Ford & Harrison and Strasburger & Price Law Firms Swap Mentoring and Training Time for Billable Hours for New Associates

As law firms become more willing to debate the pros and cons of the billable hour and other fee arrangements with clients, innovative firms are experimenting with alternatives.  A great example are firms like Ford & Harrison in Atlanta and Strasburger & Price in Dallas, which are reducing or eliminating billable-hour requirements for new associates and replacing those quotas with structured training and mentoring.

Supporters of this new method of "on-the-job-training" cite its many benefits, including teaching new lawyers practical skills that they don't acquire in law school such as deposing witnesses and communicating effectively with clients; reducing job stress on new associates and easing their transition from law school to law practice; enhancing lawyers' loyalty to their firms; and allowing associates to assume greater responsibilities earlier in their legal careers.

This new approach does have its costs, including potential losses of thousands of billable hours.  Still, proponents of this change point out that a lot of first-year associate time is written off anyway due to the associates' lack of experience.  Further, some firms expect to make up up that initial loss in the lawyers' second and third years because they will be able to assume more responsibility and bill clients at higher rates, justified by their greater experience.

Building a kind of apprenticeship into the early years of law practice is a novel idea, at least during the last few decades.  It's probably a bit too early to tell how well it work, but the strategy clearly has a commonsense appeal.  If the increased efficiency, loyalty, and productivity generate better results for clients and more revenue for law firms, we may soon see the development of new traditions for training associates, as firms rethink how they use the billable hour and, probably more importantly, quotas for billable hours.

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