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In the cutthroat world of associate recruiting, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius is pulling out the heavy weaponry: paying summer clerks for a full summer, but only requiring them to work half of it at the firm. The other half of the summer can be spent doing public interest work. It certainly looks like the mother of all perks. But if you sniff hard, you may catch a whiff of desperation. In April, Philadelphia-based Morgan Lewis, which has more than 1,100 lawyers, rolled out “PICS,” short for “public interest and community service.” The 124 summer clerks in six Morgan Lewis offices have been asked to spend the second half of their 10-to-12-week clerkship at a public interest organization. While they are out doing good, the clerks will continue to pull down summer associate salaries — $1,700 to $2,400 per week, depending on the office. At press time Morgan Lewis had just informed its clerks about PICS, and none yet had signed on to the program. But if all of them do, as the firm hopes, the PICS tab could exceed $1.25 million. That’s some serious charity, and it’s also a bold recruiting gambit. Public service plays huge at law schools, and Morgan Lewis can now lay claim to the biggest, baddest summer pro bono program in the country. But is it a subterfuge? Times are slow at many firms, and PICS may be just the latest form of make-work. In law firm terms, PICS developed at the speed of light: conceived in March and executed about a month later. With summer clerks due to arrive in mid-May, Morgan Lewis sent them a letter in April describing PICS and “strongly encouraging” them to take part in it. In early May the firm was still hustling to pad the roster of charitable organizations that would host summer associates, and it had not yet sent that roster to the clerks. The program will not be limited to “traditional” pro bono, says Thomas Sharbaugh, the firm’s managing partner for operations. Clerks, for example, will have the opportunity to intern at cultural institutions, such as National Public Radio and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, he says. It is not required, though it’s preferred, that they perform legal work, he notes. “We believe [PICS] is a good way to instill [public service] in people from ground zero,” says Sharbaugh. Many law firms steer summer associates toward pro bono work, for good reason. It is more rewarding than the typical research-and-motion fodder, and clerks can be suitably impressed by a prospective employer’s commitment to the common good. Plus, firms get to bolster their pro bono output in a relatively cost-efficient manner. Morgan Lewis — which ranked a modest 59th in the Am Law 100 pro bono rankings last July — thus has a program unusual merely in its breadth. Two former partners, who left the firm within the past year, suggest that PICS might be motivated by more than simple generosity. In March firm lawyers are supposed to start earmarking work for summer associates. “Before, when things were white-hot, it wasn’t hard to do,” says one of the lawyers. “Maybe [the firm] is worried that there is not enough work to go around … . My sense is that [PICS] is more reactionary than visionary.” Sharbaugh says it is unfortunate that PICS made its debut at a time when transactional work is sluggish at the firm, because it leads to a false inference that the two are related. “We hope to have [PICS] every year,” he says, “in the hottest times and slowest times.” The firm’s hiring plans for this fall and next summer remain robust, he adds. Morgan Lewis has assured clerks that their job prospects will not be helped or harmed by picking PICS. If that’s the case, clerks should jump at the chance to do public-interest work at a big-firm salary — while those salaries are still being offered. In the summer recruiting perks hall of fame, that beats a cocktail party any day of the week.

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