Deferred Employment being Weighed by Law Firms
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Mary Gay Scanlon is the pro bono counsel for the law firm of Ballard Spahr. Scanlon talked about deferring law students’ first years at firms.

“Withdraw[ing] offers to [young lawyers] who we had an investment in. We didn’t want to leave them in a lurch. It’s hard to get the right mix of situations where it’s worthwhile. The tension is that the law firm doesn’t want to give up a highly compensated associate for long periods of time,” she said. “We quickly said: ‘Wait a minute, maybe we can salvage something for everyone here. We can make sure that these young lawyers — some of the best and the brightest — have good work to do for this year.'”


The law firm offered stipends of cash to first-year lawyers if they were to develop their litigation skills elsewhere. Not all of Ballard Spahr’s deferred associates practiced law in the interim. Instead, some of them were placed in government agencies, public interest firms, corporations and one went to graduate school.

“In-house experts and in-house advocates for a variety of different pro bono opportunities,” said Scanlon. “Which helps with bringing strength in new areas to the firm. Poverty law is not a part of our daily practice and it’s highly beneficial to have someone who’s an expert in U visas or a whiz with asylum or SSI disability cases in-house.”

Lisa Swaminathan, a deferred associate of Ballard Spahr, spent her time at Community Legal Services while on her deferral. She spent her time working on family law, which Ballard Spahr does not practice. Swaminathan took care of cases from start to finish, with the majority of them dealing with child welfare cases.

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“This was a chance to get our feet wet doing something really positive, so I was really excited,” Swaminathan said. “That was the experience that I was looking for … [to get] to court … to know the people who I was representing, to learn how to work for a client.”

Swaminathan decided it would be in her best interest to remain at CLS for an extra year after her deferral ended. It was a temporary position that was paid for by money funded through stimulus money. Swaminathan joined Ballard Spahr in September of 2011 after two years of public interest work, helping her gain valuable experience prior to being hired full-time at the law firm.

“I learned … that [my clients were] the driving force behind everything I was doing, and it can be harder to learn that when you’re just starting out,” Swaminathan said. “It’s a hard thing to take someone out of law school and get them to a point where they can walk into a courtroom and represent a client, and I felt like I really got that at CLS.”


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