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Greenberg Traurig has a proposition to make to recent law school graduates: Join the firm as an associate, but only if you’re willing to spend a third of your time training rather than churning out billable work.

The catch? Those who sign on will be paid considerably less than the typical starting associate, will bill at a much lower hourly rate—and may wind up only sticking with the firm for a year.

The offer is the basis of what Greenberg is billing as a new residency program that is being rolled out across its 29 U.S. offices. Firm leaders envision the program as a way of recruiting talented associates it wouldn’t have hired during the traditional on-campus interview process for one reason or another. It will also allow the firm to assign junior lawyers to client matters without billing their work at the usual cringe-inducing hourly rates.

Greenberg is simultaneously creating a new nonshareholder-track position, practice group attorney, that is akin to similar jobs created by Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; and others that have moved beyond the up-or-out structure typically employed by large law firms.

“Obviously law firms have been traditionally very slow to change,” says Greenberg CEO Richard Rosenbaum. “As we’ve all seen and read, this is certainly a time where change is way overdue in the way we hire, pay, and charge for lawyers at various levels, frankly.”

Greenberg brought in 29 first-year associates this fall, compared to the 36 it hired last year and well off the 50-plus class sizes common before the recession. The firm did have good news for some of its Florida associates earlier this year, when it elevated starting salaries for those working in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to $145,000 from $125,000. Elsewhere in the country, Greenberg pays starting salaries of between $115,000 and $160,000, according to NALP’s Directory of Legal Employers. Rosenbaum says there will be a “material difference” in the residents’ salaries but declined to get more specific.

While Greenberg appears to be the first Am Law 200 firm to formally launch such a program, the concept isn’t entirely new to the firm. Last year Fort Lauderdale shareholder Kara MacCullough, with the blessing of firm management, began hiring recent graduates into that office’s corporate department to take on a similarly training-intensive job with the title of “fellow.”

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