dingbat wrote: Then where are they going to hire from? Personal injury firms?
Unless you're talking about transactional/consulting, for every biglaw case, there's a firm on the other side of it dealing with the very same issues. Furthermore, there's regulatory agency jobs in the middle, certifying such lawsuits, etc. There's smaller firms that do the same stuff for smaller businesses on the same scale, etc. Not all businesses decide to hire NLJ 250 firms. So there's plenty of non-Biglaw people getting experience with the exact same issues.
Let's back up a second. No one is hiring biglaw because they have yale graduates. People hire biglaw firms because they're the best and the brightest. A firm signals they're the best and the brightest in 3 ways: 1) Having the biggest and most complicated clients 2) winning a lot 3) hiring the best and brightest
You're falling victim to the exact same "empty prestige" trap that the market has fallen for over the last 30 or so years. Moreover, numbers 1 and 2 above show that you don't know much about what kind of cases Biglaw deals with. Biglaw has the biggest clients, but the legal issues involving these clients aren't any more complex in the legal/intellectual sense than any other. They are complex in that there's probably a lot more shit-work and discovery involved, more people to interview, etc. Thus, their legal issues require more manpower, but they don't necessarily require smarter attorneys.
And number 3 is basically begging the question--a logical fallacy. They're the best and the brightest because they hire the best and the brightest? My point above is that the best measure of "best and the brightest" is actually work product -- rather than what school you went to, your LSAT, and your law school GPA. Even if you're bright, you're not the "best" from the client's perspective if you bounce from Biglaw after two years because you can't hack it or you lose interest. And while LSAT, GPA, and law school rank are a rough measure of how well you will do as a lawyer, it's far from a perfect measure.
How does hiring affect this:
1), by exposing first/second year associates to the work is both the best way to train them and the best way to gauge if they can handle the work.
I think you have a warped view of the kind of work a first and second year Biglaw associate does. It's a lot of makework and boring, mundane, repetitive tasks, and if you do get actual legal issues to research and a chance to write anything but an internal memo, it's going to be on a small sub-section of the case regarding one or two legal issues. It's really not any different than working in shitlaw, except the client has much more money. In fact, in shitlaw, you get more responsibility faster, because they can't pay you to sit around and do makework that the clients will refuse to pay for.
3) signalling that they've hired the best students from the top schools is a lot more effective than saying they've poached lawyers from smaller firms, who haven't had exposure to the complex work biglaw performs and have't been subjected to the demanding rigor and quality control that biglaw claims to have.
I've somewhat addressed this above, but this again shows how warped your view is regarding Biglaw "work." The legal issues Biglaw tackles aren't any more complex or intellectually demanding than your average family law lawyer tackles when fighting over inheritance of a trust or estate or pension death benefit. Biglaw demands possibly more diligence, because the client will be more likely to find out if it was you that fucked up--rather than blaming it on the judge or something. Biglaw also might require more work for a single case, since there's more discovery, etc., but the work, especially at the associate level, doesn't require tackling more complex legal issues than "shitlaw."
If they keep poaching from smaller firms, they're indicating that the lawyers at the smaller firms are just as good, and there's no need to go to biglaw. Second, if someone is at a mid-size firm for 3-4 years and successful enough to be sought after by biglaw, they might already be on a partnership track at their firm.
I'd bet that a lot of lawyers at small firms would be just as good at handling Biglaw legal issues. Like I said, the magic of Biglaw isn't that they tackle more complex legal issues in the intellectual sense. Their issues are usually only more complex regarding volume of the work they have to trudge through for a single case. And, as I said before, for every suit that Biglaw defends, there's a plaintiff's firm filing the suit and many times a regulatory agency involved in that very same lawsuit tackling the very same issues.
Third, if a firm doesn't have 1st/2nd year associates, who is going to do the grunt work?
You're trying to have your cake and eat it, too, here. If first and second year associates are doing gruntwork, than how are they getting the "elite training" you described above?
Biglaw is getting less gruntwork because clients are figuring out that doc reviewers in India are able to do the same kind of work Biglaw associates used to do. Except Biglaw charged their clients $250/hour for their associate's time, while Indian and even American doc reviewers will do the same makework for less than a tenth of that cost.
The bottom line is that all associates everywhere get the crap work handed to them. Biglaw isn't any better than shitlaw in providing training handling legal research issues. Law across the board is more similar as it is different. Landlord/tenant cases and M&A cases are different mostly because the clients are different and there's more people involved in the latter. But the actual legal concepts you deal with aren't measurably more challenging. Some of the most challenging stuff you'll ever deal with is procedural quirks regarding civ pro or admin law, which are common to just about every field of law.