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As one of the nation’s largest law firms, Philadelphia’s Morgan Lewis & Bockius will have its usual plethora of summer associates getting settled in at its various offices later this month. But many of the new faces will not be staying for long. All of the firm’s 130 summer associates were recently sent a letter informing them that they have the option of splitting their traditional 10- to 12-week program between working at the firm and a full-time assignment at a nonprofit organization. The first half of the summer would be spent at Morgan Lewis, then the firm would pick up the tab — at regular summer associate weekly salary level — for the law student to work at the nonprofit during the second half. The summer associates will still participate in educational and social events while with the pro bono organization. Called PICS (Public Interest and Community Service), the program will be offered in the six offices where the firm has a summer associate program — Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Miami, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. Morgan Lewis managing partner for operations Tom Sharbaugh said the firm developed the PICS program to expand the firm’s existing public service programming and to send a message to potential recruits interested in pro bono work that the firm is serious about community involvement. Sharbaugh said Morgan Lewis in the past has offered a public interest fellowship to as many as four summer associates who split their time between the firm and a nonprofit organization. Based upon the success of the fellowship program, the firm sought ways to offer more students this opportunity and launched PICS. Though he said the firm wants to send a message to the community that it wants to be a good corporate citizen, it also wants to send a message to potential recruits. “Through the years, one of the most frequently asked questions we get from law students is about what we offer in terms of public service or pro bono,” Sharbaugh said. “Pro bono has even become a statistic used [by firms and media outlets] during recruitment. So we hope this will send a message about our commitment to public service.” Sharbaugh said the firm only decided to move forward with this initiative in March, after he attended a lecture given by former Bain & Co. chairman Tom Tierney, who spoke of the benefits public service work has had on the national business consulting firm. “You don’t usually hear of a high-powered consultant doing public service,” Sharbaugh said. “It made me think about what more we could be doing.” In April, the firm sent out letters to nonprofit organizations to see if they were interested in participating. After getting an initial response, the firm then sent out letters to the incoming crop of summer associates, informing them of the program and promising to get back to them with a list of participating organizations from which to choose. Firm officials say a number of prominent legal and cultural organizations have committed to the program, and Morgan Lewis is in the process of matching summer associates with the nonprofit organizations. Examples of participants include National Public Radio, National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institute, the United Way, the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public defenders offices, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a host of local organizations. Because Morgan Lewis had a fellowship program where law students split their summer between the firm and a public service commitment, the new program is essentially an expansion of the existing one. Even so, Sharbaugh insists that there is no pressure on summer associates to participate or not participate in the program. “We’d be perfectly happy if all of them did it, but because we just started it, students may be wary about whether [participating] will actually help or harm them [in terms of securing an offer with the firm],” Sharbaugh said. “In the letter we sent them, we used the words ‘strongly encouraged,’ but we pointed out that it won’t be a disadvantage if they do it or don’t do it. “We’re sensitive to the fact that they might have concerns along those lines. So if they want to stay at the firm, that’s fine. In fact, one student said she thought this was a great program but she wanted to use the whole summer to get to know the firm. We told her that was fine.” University of Pennsylvania Law School director of career planning JoAnne Verrier said there was some initial trepidation from students heading to Morgan Lewis this summer when they received the letter last month. Those concerns were eased when the students found out that the program was not mandatory and they could choose to stay at the firm if they so desired. Still, because the letters were sent out four months after the students accepted the Morgan Lewis offers and about a month before they were about to begin their summer job, Verrier expects participation might be a littler lower than it will be in the future. “My impression is that while the students were impressed with the firm’s commitment to pro bono, the majority of them might choose to stay at the firm this summer just for their own professional growth. Some of them have a public interest background and [staying at the firm for the whole summer] fits more into what they wanted to get out of the summer when they originally accepted the offer last year. But I think the program will be more attractive next summer when the firm has a chance to explain it to students [during the recruitment process].” One source familiar with law firm recruiting said that especially because the Morgan Lewis summer associates are just finding out about this opportunity, they might be confused about what option to choose. “You know how paranoid summer associates are,” the source said. “Each will be wondering which will be worse. Do they say that they don’t want to do it and come off looking like the typical hard-hearted corporate lawyer? Or do they want to be viewed as the closet liberal who’s only at the firm to earn some money before they leave for some public service job in a few years? Some kids definitely overanalyze. They should just do what’s right for them and not worry about the consequences. But I guess it’s easier said than done.” Sharbaugh said he was unaware of any other large firm offering such a broad program for all of its summer associates. Other firms do offer a scaled-down version of the Morgan Lewis program. Last year, New York’s Kelley Drye & Warren initiated a summer associate fellowship program where one student splits his or her summer between the firm and a nonprofit while retaining full salary. Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman offers a similar program, where four second-year law students (two each in New York and Washington, D.C.) have the opportunity to spend the first half of the summer with the firm and the remainder with a public interest organization of their choice. Reed Smith is offering a new program this year where each of its summer associates have the option of spending one week working for a nonprofit at the firm’s expense. The firm also allows summer associates to determine how the firm spends money earmarked for charitable contributions. When informed of Morgan Lewis’ new initiative, the firm’s chief rival in Philadelphia, Dechert, quickly moved to differentiate itself. Hope Freiwald and John LaRocca, the two partners running this year’s summer program, said Dechert prefers that its summer associates spend the entire summer getting acclimated to the firm. “We want them to get to know the Dechert attorneys and basically give them a flavor of the Dechert experience,” Freiwald said. “We very much want our summer associates to get involved with pro bono work. And they are; they just work with Dechert attorneys on those matters. We feel like we made a commitment to them and they made one to us, and we’re going to honor our end of the bargain by having them spend the entire summer at the firm. We think summer associates are looking for real-life experience and that’s what we give them here.” Sharbaugh, though, believes that six weeks is enough time to evaluate a summer associate’s prospects of receiving an offer. He said Morgan Lewis is conscious of the shortened time frame, and it has responded by making the first half of the summer more intense, focusing on serious work-related projects faster than it normally would. And Sharbaugh said that the firm was not introducing the program because there is a lack of work for summer associates during this economic downturn. He noted that several practice areas — particularly litigation and labor and employment — are exceptionally busy.

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