With the recession making associate hours almost unbillable to corporate clients, law firms are finding themselves with a surplus of manpower and in a hiring dilemma: stop recruiting altogether or find ways to bring in and train new talent on the cheap.

Gibbons has a partial answer: one that echoes from eras past, when young attorneys cut their teeth at law office clerkships. The Newark, N.J., firm has launched an one-year “apprenticeship” program to allow newly admitted lawyers an opportunity to learn the ropes.