General Counsel: Ask Your Outside Counsel for a “Career Associate” and Lower your Legal Spend

Imagine seeing this title on your AmLaw 200 law firm bill: career associate. While a bit odd, it may be the latest way large firms are controlling costs and creating a lower threshold for billable hours.

The ABA Journal reports that law firms have been experimenting with different titles that can signify different career paths for outside counsel. For example, the above mentioned “career associate” references a lawyer at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe that works at lower rates and reduced hours and is excluded from the partnership track. The article reports similar trends at Greenberg Traurig and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

But are these title changes semantics or substantive?

According to an expert interviewed for the article, the changes reflect the “economic challenges of the past five years” and “lawyers’ changing professional expectations and desires.”

Truth be told, law firms have been juggling titles for quite some time. While this may be just marketing machinations, the fact that some of these new titles charge a lower rate could translate into substantial savings for corporate law departments – who have, for years, pushed for an appropriate and applicable mix of billing levels on outside counsel bills. After all, basic work doesn’t need “drive by” billing from a senior partner. Now, with the advent of these new positions, there is the possibility to move basic work from associates to an even more budget-compliant level of attorney.

So if you happen to see career associate, legal resident or department attorney on your latest bill, give yourself a moment to smile as you (hopefully) savor the spend savings. 

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