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Deferred Start Dates Are a Good Thing?

someone looking at their watch

Staci Zaretsky wrote about deferred Biglaw start dates on Above the Law today and while law accounting, the sausage factory of the Professional Services Industrial Complex™ is pretty much the same thing. Let me add, we’re beginning to see delayed start dates in our little corner of the billable hour universe so this might have some relevance.

The gist of it:

Hugh A. Simons, former senior partner at The Boston Consulting Group and chief operating officer at Ropes & Gray, predicts in a column published in the American Lawyer that sometime in the next few weeks, Biglaw firms will approach their incoming associates with a year-long deferral offer — one that includes a stipend and insurance — explaining that due to current market conditions, they may not be able to work as much as necessary to grow and develop with the firm. “If such is to be expected,” he writes, “then it is to be fervently hoped that many 3Ls will give such deferral serious consideration.” [Ed. note: here’s an old article that says 3L year is when “they bore you to death.”]

In other words, the economy sucks right now which means less work to go around which according to Simons means new hires won’t cultivate that thrown-into-the-fire-ass-first experience that sets a strong foundation for the rest of new hires’ careers.

Here’s the thing, the accounting profession is already dealing with this experience drain to some degree. Both automation and increased reliance on offshore talent — particularly at the lower levels — in recent years have led to the younguns not getting the same rigorous (read: tedious) training their predecessors did. It all sort of snuck up on us so other than training modules (which often boil down to the modern, white collar version of fast food training videos), there hasn’t been a significant effort to replace this loss with equally valuable training. Interns and first years are like machine learning models, you have to feed them to train them.

ATL quotes this bit from Simons’ column:

Market demand for corporate transactional services is extraordinarily soft right now. This lowers the prospects of incoming associates having a strong, successful, start. A curious dynamic within Big Law firms is that a strong start is hugely predictive of having an enjoyable and rewarding career, with the reverse also being true. Thus, pushing off a start date for a year, by when market demand is expected to have rebounded, positions an incoming associate more robustly for success.

More broadly, a career can span 30 to 40 years. The loans will get paid off. Taking a year before you dive in and instead exploring something outside the mainstream is no bad thing. When firms offered deferral stipends in the wake of the global financial crisis, people went off and worked at non-profits, took lower-court clerkships, helped in political campaigns, did advocacy work for immigrants, took master’s degrees, or just traveled. Saliently, 10-15 percent didn’t come back to their firms. There was something more compelling out there.

Well shit, we’re seeing that, too. Firms have been complaining for years that new accounting graduates are bypassing the trial by fire of public accounting and even the CPA exam, heading straight into industry and whatever else that’s preferable to public accounting. HOW DARE THEY DO THAT.

Does he have a point or is this a big cope akin to clickbait articles with doom and gloom headlines that end with “And Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing”?