Keeping talent is key. At Hunton & Williams, Davis took advantage of a program providing attorneys flexibility for life’s milestones and surprises—a baby in Davis’s case. In 2008, she went part-time for a year. Judith Itkin, the firm’s partner overseeing recruiting and development, says Hunton & Williams is open to such flexibility because “losing 40 to 60 percent of your associates within three or four years is not a great model in this economy.”
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe hires “career” associates for nonpartnership-track positions typically paid $65,000 to $85,000. The program has swelled at the 1,000-plus attorney firm, from less than 5 to nearly 50 in three years. “The practice of law is changing fundamentally,” says Orrick Chairman and CEO Ralph Baxter.
Whether such models can sustain new law school students, who face total tuitions in the $150,000 range, is unclear. “People ought to think very hard whether a legal career is for them,” says Wilkins. For those determined to pursue one, Wilkins suggests learning how law firm economics work and focusing on the intersection of “law, business, and public policy.” Davis adds: “Develop your skills early on. Ask and take advantage of resources. It’s a lot of work being an associate other than being an associate.”