Law Students, Grads Head In-House

Pilot programs offer new lawyers corporate legal skills and, for the lucky, jobs.

, The National Law Journal

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alttextDiamonds International G.C. Elchonon Shagalov, seated, and in-house associate Jessica Blumert
Diamonds International G.C. Elchonon Shagalov, seated, and in-house associate Jessica Blumert

The San Jose-based technology company is under no obligation to hire the students once they graduate, Weiser said, but their time spent within the company's legal department will give the participants a real résumé boost.

For Cisco, the program offers a chance to instill an in-house mind-set in young attorneys — something that lateral law firm hires tend to lack.

"We want access to a different hiring pool," said Steve Harmon, senior director of legal services, who is overseeing the new program. "Historically, it's been difficult for companies like Cisco to hire students right out of law school because they lack the necessary training. But the right type of training isn't happening in law firms."

'EXPANDING INTERESTS'

Law firms tend to take a "no stone unturned" approach, whereas in-house attorneys examine legal problems with efficiency and cost in mind, Harmon said.

He envisions providing a range of experiences for the Colorado students, from working with engineers to identify patent ideas to using technology to find efficiencies in high-volume work in the department's legal operations section.

The idea of corporate legal departments hiring law students or recent graduates isn't entirely new. Hewlett-Packard Co. began hiring new law graduates in 2010, as has International Business Machines Corp. in recent years.

Some corporate legal departments already open their doors to law students for internships or externships, but those opportunities are far outnumbered by internships with judges, government agencies, legal services organizations and law firms, said Luke Bierman, associate dean for experiential education at Northeastern University School of Law. Of the 850 legal employers involved with Northeastern's innovative co-op program — where students spend a cumulative year working full time in four different legal environments — only about 10 percent are corporate legal departments, he said.

"I do think, traditionally, corporate legal departments were relatively small, a lot of their work was farmed out and they were fairly insular," Bierman said. "It's a relatively recent development that they are expanding their interests, and bringing in students or people from the outside is more culturally acceptable."

Lawyers typically spend three to five years working at a firm before landing a job in Credit Suisse's legal department, said managing counsel Andy Hutcher. But in January the department will welcome 10 or more second-year students from New York Law School into its new general counsel academy program. They will work part time at Credit Suisse next semester and some may work full time throughout the summer.

"The vision is that some of the 2Ls will do so well here that we will include them in a second year of the program, but we'll take this one year at a time," Hutcher said. "If that goes well, we hope to find roles for some of these students when they graduate. Law schools still tend to send most of their graduates to law firms, and we want to show some students an alternative path."

Morgan Stanley's legal department is still figuring out how its Bridge to Practice program will work, but it will focus on giving recent graduates a year of real-world work experience, said chief legal officer Eric Grossman, who also serves on the city bar's task force.

What's being said

  • Senior Attorney

    Wow, pay $51K per year in tuition to make less than a secretary.

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