John Schultz, Hewlett-Packard general counsel
John Schultz, Hewlett-Packard general counsel (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

SAN FRANCISCO ­— A growing number of Bay Area law students are heading in-house for the summer.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is launching a corporate summer associate program and will welcome six students in its inaugural class. It’s a first for the Palo Alto company, which has been a maverick in its willingness to hire green lawyers and train them from the ground up.

Meanwhile, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius is giving its summers the option of spending four weeks embedded with a firm client. This year, 22 companies are slated to host 2Ls, including The Clorox Company, The Gap Inc. and prominent Valley tech companies. Nearly half the firm’s summer class is slated to participate.

While such immersion programs are still novelties, many law firms, including Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, are dabbling with making client contact a bigger part of the summer experience.

“Everybody is really paying attention to getting to know their clients better—or at least they should be,” said Jami Wintz McKeon, a partner and chairwoman-elect at Morgan Lewis. “A big challenge for law firms is how do you train young attorneys to really understand what’s important to the clients and what their business is like.”

McKeon worked with Michele Martin, the firm’s legal personnel partner, and Rahul Kapoor, a firm partner and head of legal recruiting, to create the “Client Experience Program” in 2012. That year, just one client and four summer associates took part. That increased to eight clients and 12 associates last summer.

Among them was Angela Gandhi, a University of Chicago law student who said she jumped at the opportunity to work on Clorox’s Oakland-based legal team.

Gandhi, who’s interested in intellectual property, was able to get an inside look at the patent issues surrounding a Clorox product redesign. Working in-house, she said, changed the way she thinks, pushing her to go beyond merely answering a legal question. “How are they going to use this information? How can I provide this information in a way so that they’ll get the most out of it?” she said.

Vicki Huebner, assistant dean of career services at Santa Clara University School of Law, said that while in-house internships clearly benefit students, it pays off for firms too. “The firms who are doing this, I think that they’re being really innovative and really smart,” Huebner said. “They’re sitting down and thinking strategically about how they’re managing their relationships with their outside clients and the skill building they want to do.”

Though Morgan Lewis’ program is an outlier, other firms also have found ways to give summer associates more in-house exposure. Summers at Orrick are commonly sent out to the headquarters of startups, where they work in the trenches to sift through documents. Last year, Skadden’s Palo Alto office debuted its 1L Scholars Program, which places law students in-house for up to five weeks. It’s an opportunity to “crystalize pragmatic thinking and writing for a client,” said Thomas Ivey, the partner in the Palo Alto office in charge of attorney recruiting. In 2013, the office had one first-year scholar, who spent four weeks with HP. In 2010, HP began hiring law students right out of school for its legal department. The department, which employs about 1,200, half of them lawyers, is taking things a step further this year with a summer program. It’s following the law firm recruiting model: On-campus interviews to hire six second-year law students to spend the summer working in-house, with a job offer waiting at the end of a successful summer.

HP general counsel John Schultz came from Morgan Lewis, and is mindful of the need to offer training opportunities to green hires. He told the audience at a panel discussion in April that HP is moving all of its single-plaintiff employment cases in-house.

“We’re going to do more and more of that in-house,” he said, so new hires can litigate a lower-stakes case. In his time as a partner at Morgan Lewis, Schultz said he doesn’t believe any of the associates who worked under him got a chance to try a case. “They didn’t have the opportunity,” he said. “We no longer had small cases.”

And he likes the idea of competing early for promising hires. “We really believe our future is to become much more self-sufficient and have the entry point be the best and brightest from law schools,” Schultz said, “not what the law firms decide to cast off to us four or five years later.”

Contact the reporter at mzilberman@alm.com.