Stratford trial lawyer Kenneth Beck is all too aware of the challenges facing newly minted law school graduates who are ready to start careers, but sorely in need of on-the-job experience to get in the door.
That need for training gave him an idea: why not charge young attorneys a monthly fee to follow him to court when he makes appearances? After all, there might be a large number of people who could benefit from his 20 years of experience by observing him at work. So Beck put a “Help Wanted” posting on Craigslist to see how many law school grads might jump at the chance.
“I wasn’t looking to charge five people $300 an hour to go to court with me,” said Beck, who runs a small general practice firm in Stratford with four other lawyers. “I was just looking to basically not lose money that’s involved in explaining things. It would be learning by doing. I thought it was a creative way to fill a gap. I thought I was offering a service.”
The unintended consequence of his idea, however, has raised controversy over whether it is wrong for a law firm to charge law school graduates for on-the-job training. In the past week or so, the debate has raged all over the legal web, as well as in Connecticut legal circles.
“I’m still peeling myself off the ceiling,” said Lou Pepe, who is co-chair of the Connecticut Bar Association’s professionalism and CLE section. “I think it’s quite unfortunate that anyone would try to exploit the plight of recent law school grads in such a manner. I hope it’s not a portent of things to come in our profession.”
While Beck said his idea is comparable to training seminars offered for years by law schools and bar associations, Pepe said the difference is that Beck wanted to charge for something that is available for free. For example, Pepe said, there is a through a mentoring program organized by the CBA in which newly admitted lawyers are paired up with seasoned professionals to get advice and practical answers to questions about practicing. “We provide the same or better guidance,” Pepe said. “At no charge.”
But Beck says he was just trying to help. “I was shocked by the response from people who thought this was wrong,” he said. “Now I’m getting a lot of nasty emails, so I decided to pull the ad. It’s gone.”
About eight young lawyers responded to Beck’s ad by email, some saying they wanted to know more about his offer. Mark Randall, a University of Connecticut School of Law student who expects to graduate this year, wasn’t among those replying, but he understands the potential appeal. “I could see how somebody might be desperate enough to take him up on the offer,” Randall said. “Experience is a necessity in this difficult job market,” but, he concluded, “buying experience isn’t the answer.”
‘Come To This’
But the biggest response by far came from bloggers and visitors to online message boards, many of whom thought Beck was taking advantage of people in a difficult job market.