Time to Test-Drive a New Lawyer!

You say you're in the market to hire a new associate at your law firm? Well, have I got a deal for you! You wouldn't buy a new car without test driving it, would you? Of course not! You'd kick the tires, check under the hood, and then take that baby out for a spin, right? And then you'd ask the salesman if he could throw in some seat covers and floor mats, right? (He'll have to talk to the manager, but he thinks he can do it!)

Well, believe it or not, for a limited time only, you can test-drive a new lawyer! Don't hire that new associate for your law office until you have taken him or her out for a spin!

So help me, Southern Methodist University Law School is now offering you the opportunity to "test-drive" a Class of 2010 graduate. They'll even pay you or your firm to do it!

Yes, SMU Law School will pay you or your firm the sum of $3,500 for a one-month test drive, advertised on the law school website as a "no strings attached opportunity to allow a legal employer to evaluate a class of 2010 graduate on a trial basis." (Get it? Trial. Heh-heh.) But wait! It gets even better! They "will consider funding an additional month of employment if you and the graduate intend to continue the relationship toward full-time employment."

And if you're not in the market to buy a new lawyer this year, SMU will pay you to test-drive a law student next summer in a clerkship or internship program. Yes, you might be more interested in a 2012 SMU model lawyer. (I'm personally in the market for one of the new hybrid lawyers that get about 100 billable hours per gallon.)

Apparently the test-drive-a-lawyer program is a real success. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, SMU Law School Dean John Attanasio claims that 65 of the law students who were test-driven were offered permanent jobs. In other words, after the test-drive, the law firm bought the lawyer! (Dean Attanasio probably did throw in some seat covers and floor mats.)

Who knows? Legal headhunters may soon offer the same deal for used lawyers. Hey, would you hire me without a test drive? At the very least, you would have your own mechanic check me out! I've got over 300,000 miles on me!

Well, in the words of the noted law school dean Yogi Berra, this is just déjá  vu all over again.

Some 33 years ago, after my second year at the Big Orange College of Law, I was test-driven by the firm of Thomason, Crawford & Hendrix in Memphis. For three months, senior partners Buddy Thomason, Billy Frank Crawford, and Roy Hendrix test drove me around the law library, kicked my tires, and then made the decision to buy me at the whopping starting salary of $12,000 a year!

It was an as-is, no warranty deal, and insofar as I know, Ken Penegar, who was then the dean of the Big Orange College of Law, did not fund my clerkship.

I think it made great sense for the partners of Thomason, Crawford & Hendrix to test-drive me 33 years ago. I think it even made more sense for them to buy me at a bargain price as part of UT Law School's year-end clearance sale. (The Dean has gone crazy! He says, "Move these lawyers out!")

And therefore, while I really don't think it's a new idea, I commend SMU Law School for its new test-drive-a-lawyer program. In fact, I'm thinking about calling the legal placement director at SMU today and asking her for the chance to take an SMU grad out for a spin. And if I do, I won't be at all surprised if the legal placement director says to me, "Well, Bill, what would it take for you to drive this brand new lawyer out of the SMU showroom today?!"


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.