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It’s not about money, partners say. But the estimated $875,000 Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati stands to save with its new first-year work schedule isn’t chump change. The firm put the kibosh on letting first-year associates select their own start dates from August through November, as last year’s newbies did. Instead, Wilson’s class of 84 first years have to pick one of three start dates. But while the bulk of last year’s first years chose to start work by October, two of this year’s start dates are set for later in the year. By slicing up the fall class of 84 associates, the firm will have 28 arriving on each of the first Mondays of October, November and December. So for every month each first year doesn’t work at the firm, Wilson saves at least $10,416.66. That may not seem like much — until you consider the class size. For the 56 associates who will be starting in November and December, instead of in October, the firm is saving about $875,000 in salary alone. That doesn’t even factor in training costs, benefits and overhead. All together, the costs could equal a nice retreat if the firm hadn’t cancelled those kinds of things to save money. But Wilson’s not the only firm to place strict controls on when its freshmen show up for work. Cooley Godward, also based in Palo Alto, Calif., limits the choice of starting date for its first years as well, and has for years. And the firm admits it’s all about saving money. “The orientation process is not an inexpensive process,” said partner John Dwyer, head of the firm’s hiring committee. “If you let them start at different times, you’re not going to have a very good program or it is going to be very disruptive for the people trying to administer it.” Cooley has two start dates for its incoming class of 86 first years, one in mid-October and one in November. Cooley had offered a third in September. But so few people wanted to start work so early that the firm dropped it. Not every firm buys into the staggered approach, however. San Francisco’s Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison has 79 first years arriving on Oct. 22, and they’ll be given a mass orientation at that time. “It makes more sense to us to do it once,” said Molly Lane, the Brobeck partner in charge of first-year recruiting. San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster has just one start date as well. Its 72 associates are starting work on the same day in early September. San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop, meanwhile, still lets its associates plan their arrival from August to October. Partner William Waller said the flexibility is key to people who are supporting families or have planned a big trip before starting the daily grind. Pillsbury lets each of its offices schedule the arrivals of its 88 first years. But the firm moved up by a month its intensive, week-long training. That will be in December in New York. Generally, associates report on day one to the office where they’ll be working and then are brought together later for an intensive training. Cooley and Wilson are also gathering all of their first years for intensive orientation programs in December. “There is value in having people up and running and assimilated before they get their Bar results,” said Mary Ellen Hatch, Pillsbury’s director of recruitment. Keith Eggleton, the Wilson partner in charge of recruiting associates from law schools, said the staggered arrivals are part of the firm’s stepped-up approach to training new hires. Training new arrivals and allocating them to the various practice groups became a top priority for the firm last year as it shuffled its upper management structure and assigned the tasks to a senior partner. “We’ve gone to a more in-depth orientation,” said Eggleton. “When they start, they’ll get more details about the firm.” And integrating 28 new associates into the firm is much easier than a full-on class of 84, he said. Ten of those new hires will ultimately be working in outposts of the firm. “Our class has gotten so big, it got unwieldy and hard to logistically handle the new lawyers,” Eggleton said.

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