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As of Monday, the small army of attorneys out there who once worked for New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom were able to check out the latest at the old shop — and check in with old friends — with the click of a mouse. Which is to say that Skadden Arps’ Web site went live with a new link: a cyberspace version of the venerable office water cooler. A place for the firm’s approximately 2,000 alumni to catch up and commune. And — who knows? — perhaps a wellspring of new business for Skadden Arps. It is the newest twist in tracking the professional course of alumni, which in itself is a relatively late-blooming formal practice at law firms. This is a practice that Robert J. Kafin, managing partner of New York’s Proskauer Rose, strongly endorses. “It’s just good business,” said Kafin. “A lot of our alums are snapped up by our clients as in-house counsel. Others go to places where we could enjoy a referral relationship — accounting firms, investment banks. “Besides, a lot of us have become good friends,” he said. “It’s always interesting to know what your friends are doing.” Proskauer publishes a periodic alumni directory — alternatively available as a WordPerfect document — and hosts a reception every other year. Other big firms have alumni programs approaching Proskauer’s formality, such as it is. “The way it happens at law firms is, there’s a senior partner who sort of intuitively stays in touch with the good people, and maybe they’ll invite former attorneys and staff to the firm’s various functions,” said Cem Sertoglu, founder and chief executive officer of SelectMinds, a Web consulting company for law firms, among other endeavors. “Until recently, there’s been very little in the way of formal, structured alumni programs. “Only in the last five years or so,” Sertoglu added, “have the more progressive firms incorporated Web-based features into their alumni programs.” To be sure, Sertoglu has a personal stake in the newest twist. While his 3-year-old company did not design Skadden Arps’ alumni Web link, it did so for New York’s Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. “Our alumni program was dormant for a number of years,” said Claudia M. Freeman, director of marketing at Cadwalader Wickersham. “It takes someone to really follow through, and we’ve had a number of marketing people in and out. “But anyhow, we’ve given a little kick to our program now,” Freeman said. “Since early 2000, we’ve made a really concerted effort — with a database, simultaneous with the alumni section of our Web site.” Cadwalader Wickersham’s alumni site — much like that of New York’s Schulte Roth & Zabel — contains late-breaking news of the firm, an archive of newsletters, profiles of former associates and partners gone to new and interesting positions, and personal contact information. Registered alumni are given passwords to access the site — at no cost. “We’ve got a very affectionate group of alumni,” said Robert M. Abrahams, a senior litigation partner at Schulte Roth. Moreover, he said, echoing Kafin at Proskauer, “We frequently lose our people to places that become significant sources of new business.” FOUNDING NOTION The seemingly obvious fact that associates and partners can benefit the firms they leave was precisely the founding notion of Sertoglu’s company. “Former employees are very valuable assets, yet few companies have realized this value,” said Sertoglu, a former management consultant — the very industry he identified as first to realize that alumni could mean dollars. Sertoglu has a point. Thomas J. Tierney, who recently stepped down as chief executive officer of Bain & Company, labeled professional alumni as “the number one source of quality new business” in an article for the Boston-based corporate consultant firm. RECRUITING TOOL With law firms now seeing the practical value of former attorneys, young associates are likewise persuaded. “Some firms are using their alumni programs as a big recruiting tool,” said Sertoglu. “They’re going after top talent at the law schools, pitching the value of network — and life beyond the firm.” For individuals — young associates in particular — the alumni network is increasingly important as a career management tool. “The networks have become a clearing house of employment information,” said Sertoglu. “The firm is asking the former employee to provide it with up-to-date information. In exchange, individuals can network with other high-quality professionals. “After all, the law is such a relationship-driven profession.” Indeed, Abrahams said that alumni gatherings hosted by Schulte Roth resemble college reunions. “Really,” he said, “they look like lovefests.” Nancy A. Lieberman, a corporate partner at Skadden Arps who co-chairs the firm’s alumni program, also hit on the campus parallel. “It’s just obvious and apparent that we need to keep in touch, much in the same way as a university keeps in touch with its alums,” said Lieberman. “As a firm grows, this is just inevitable.” STEEP COSTS Inevitable, too, are the steep costs involved in tracking alumni. According to Sertoglu, establishing an ongoing alumni section of a firm’s Web site begins at about $50,000. Depending on customized features, that price can run to $100,000. Additionally, there are monthly licensing and hosting costs, which can run as much as $2,000. Printing and distribution costs involved in a law firm’s alumni tracking program can be even higher, and certainly more frequent. “Once you put together a big directory,” said Freeman, “it’s just about out- of-date the minute it hits the printing press.” Whatever the cost of tracking alumni, suggested a number of law firm partners and administrators, it should be considered an investment. For starters, Sertoglu noted that the rehire rate at professional corporations is 4 percent. “It’s about half as expensive to recruit a former employee as opposed to a brand-new person,” said Sertoglu, “and 40 percent less expensive to train them. “Most importantly, it takes away the risk of a bad hire. A law firm that might have gone through layoffs can look back and rehire high performers.” Related chart: Are You Getting Left Behind?

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