For the second year in a row, several of the largest law firms in Wisconsin are pushing back traditional start dates for their incoming associates.
Typically, firms begin orientation for new hires around Labor Day, but Quarles & Brady is deferring start dates until January 2011, consistent with its plan for last year’s group of fall associates.
“I think it is a financial decision again,” said the firm’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Mary K. Arnburg. “It’s still a challenging economy out there so I think we just want to be cautious.”
Firm-wide, Quarles will bring in nine new associates, including four in its Milwaukee office and one in Madison.
In an effort to bridge the financial gap, Arnburg said deferred associates have the opportunity to get an advance on their salaries. The starting salary for associates in the Wisconsin branches is $115,000.
“We didn’t offer a stipend, but we did offer the possibility to get an advance on their salary to tide them over,” said Arnburg, who did not know the amount of money associates could get up front. “It’s something that is worked out with the payroll department.”
Arnburg did not rule out the possibility that associates could start sooner next year, if there is a need.
Similarly, Foley & Lardner is deferring start dates for the second consecutive year, although the delay is less severe than 2009.
Milwaukee managing partner Nancy J. Sennett said 29 new associates, including six in Milwaukee will begin in January.
The three-month deferral is more manageable than what some of the 69 Foley associates who were 2009 graduates encountered.
Of the 13 Milwaukee associate hires from the 2008 summer program, four began in February 2010, one in April and the remaining eight will start in September — almost 15 months after graduation.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as normal anymore,” said Sennett, of traditional start dates for associates. “I’m sure it is always disappointing, but we have not had anyone decline an offer.”
Last year, Foley offered $10,000 stipends to cushion the blow for associates, but Sennett said the firm refrained from doing the same again, in part because associates were given more notice and the delay is shorter.
However, she said the firm would try to accommodate financially-strapped associates.
“I don’t know if we would offer a salary advance, but I expect that if someone came to us and said ‘here is my financial situation, what can you do?’ we would try to assist them,” Sennett said.
Deferred associates are also encouraged to seek pro bono or public service work in the interim, although it is not mandatory, said Sennett, who expected a return to September start dates in 2011.
For some firms that delayed start dates in 2009, this time is more about consistency than necessity.
Godfrey & Kahn modestly pushed back start dates three weeks both last year and again in 2010.
Manager of Attorney Recruiting Kelly S. Conrardy said this year’s decision to move the start date to Sept. 27 for its eight associates, all in Milwaukee, had little to do with the economy.
“It’s really just a convenience thing for the administrative group at the firm,” she said. “I don’t know that we would go back to the day after Labor Day.”
Conrardy added that the firm still wanted to get associates started prior to Oct. 1, to take advantage of benefit enrollment.
Other firms have been able to avoid deferred start dates altogether.
Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, one of the five largest firms in the state, has never pushed back start dates, according to the firm’s Recruiting Committee Chair Albert S. Orr.
This year’s five associates are expected to begin on Sept. 1 and Orr said some were even asked to begin earlier.
“We were aware what other firms are doing, but we had a need to get these folks started right away,” Orr said. “I’m not aware of any serious consideration to defer here.”
Jack Zemlicka can be reached at [email protected].