Many large law firms use networking events, alumni newsletters and other tools to stay connected to attorneys whose careers take them elsewhere. Kirkland & Ellis has taken the idea one step further by providing career counseling services to lawyers who plan to leave the firm—and to those who have already left.
“Thirty years ago, people didn’t leave,” their law firms, said Kirkland’s alumni engagement director, Chiara Wrocinski. Now, she said, “That’s just not the way the world works, or work works.”
Wrocinski said the firm is embracing the reality that most of the lawyers it trains will take their skills elsewhere—and that it’s in the firm’s best interest to keep them on good terms.
The program officially launched for current Kirkland attorneys last June, and it was opened to alumni in August. Ex-Kirkland lawyers who take advantage of the service are invited to come back to meet with one of the firm’s two fulltime career coaches for confidential sessions. The counselors review resumes, help with interview preparation and help prepare lawyers for salary negotiations. Kirkland lawyers and alumni can also get emails with job postings.
Since Kirkland launched a pilot version of the program in September 2013, 282 lawyers have participated, including 66 who are no longer at the firm. Nearly a third of participants have less than six years of legal experience, while just over half have between seven and 15 years of experience. About 16 percent have been lawyers for more than 15 years.
University of California, Davis School of Law professor Robert Hillman said the program appeared to be “a farsighted attempt to capture some of the gains that come from mobility.”
“In the past, when people left the firm, the relationship was pretty much severed,” said Hillman, who studies mobility in the legal profession. He said that in-house legal departments were much smaller 30 years ago, and lateral movement was almost non-existent.
Hillman noted Kirkland is likely not offering these services out of some sort of charitable impulse, but because it’s good business.
The firm works with recruiters to learn about available jobs, Wrocinski said. In a sense, that allows the firm to intercept communications between its lawyers and recruiters by offering to serve as a go-between.
“They’re not getting direct access to our attorneys, they’re getting direct access to us,” Wrocinski said of the recruiters. “We’re the ones communicating to the attorneys.”
Wrocinski joined Kirkland from Deloitte two years ago. She said accounting and consulting firms have been ahead of law firms when it comes to connecting with alumni. She’s also working on a program to help train Kirkland lawyers for in-house jobs, she said.
Lawyers who have already used the new program to leave Kirkland for another job said that if they transition again, their former firm will be the first place they look.
“It really is something that can help people,” said Jesse Ganz, who used the service before leaving Kirkland in January for Godfrey & Kahn, a smaller firm in Wisconsin. He said that other firms may recognize the importance of having a good relationship with their alumni, but they don’t always offer them something of value.
Christine Bedi, a former Kirkland associate who became corporate counsel at Ryan Specialty Group in July, said she recognized that it was in her former firm’s best interest to keep her happy.
Bedi said the firm’s career counseling program capitalizes on the fact that finding a job often requires connections. The counselor she met with offered to introduce her to Kirkland partners who counted the companies she was interested in as clients, as well as former Kirkland lawyers who were working at those companies.
“I think at first blush you feel like, ‘Why would any firm try to actively push their attorneys out the door?’” she said.
“The majority of the junior attorneys that come in don’t make partner,” she added. “You want to make sure they leave on good terms and eventually they may be in the position to give work back.”
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