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Seton Hall Law at Work: The Gibbons Apprenticeship Program

This new series, Seton Hall Law at Work, highlights the relationships that build between employers and the Seton Hall Law graduates who work with them. Our first installment describes the innovative Gibbons Apprenticeship Program, founded in September 2010, in which the leaders of Gibbons P.C. saw an opportunity for a talented candidate to hone his legal skills on the job. This economy calls for creative approaches to fill staffing needs – and this apprenticeship program gave a promising new attorney a chance to fulfill his potential.

Gibbons_Internship_ProgramGibbons P.C. the 230-attorney Newark-based law firm, designed the apprenticeship program to be a client-focused attorney recruitment and development platform. It exposes recent law school graduates to the day-to-day responsibilities of law firm junior associates and trains them in a “real world” law firm environment, honing their practical legal and client service skills in a variety of disciplines. Apprentices actively participate in firm-sponsored and external professional training programs. With close attorney supervision, they also “shadow” attorneys throughout their assigned practice groups, at the firm, in court and, when appropriate, at client meetings.

The apprenticeship is a full-time paid position. While they are assigned a billable hourly rate that is significantly lower than that of the firm’s associates so that more routine aspects of client matters can be addressed through exceptionally cost effective means clients are not billed for any apprentice training time, and the program eliminates the need for new attorneys to learn and develop professionally on client time.

“Clients have clearly sharpened their focus in recent years on how law firms staff their matters, seeking lean, efficient staffing without ‘paying to train’ first-year associates,” notes David E. De Lorenzi, Chair of the Intellectual Property Department, who shepherded the apprenticeship program.

“Gibbons is committed to anticipating client concerns and offering creative, proactive solutions,” says Patrick C. Dunican Jr. ?91, Chairman and Managing Director of the firm. “Given current economic realities, our attorney hiring and training practices should directly address their impact on the fees we bill our clients though staffing client matters efficiently with the highest quality legal talent remains the most important strategy in controlling costs and increasing value.”

John J. (Jay) Cahill ?10 served as the firm’s first apprentice, working in the Intellectual Property Department, with his work supervised by David De Lorenzi. Cahill came to his apprenticeship with an already impressive resume for a new IP attorney. Prior to attending law school, he earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and subsequently directed the design and development of diode laser systems for various companies. He has an extensive background and experience as an engineer and manager in the areas of design, development and manufacture of semiconductor laser diode devices, components, and systems used in medical device, defense, telecommunications and industrial applications. Cahill decided to become an attorney because he believed it would be an opportunity to combine his technical education and experience with the law to further the interests of the scientific community.

Says Cahill of his experience as the first Gibbons apprentice, “The apprenticeship provided me with a broad overview of, and a concentrated focus on, the various aspects of legal practice. I have been fortunate to experience both facets of the IP practice: counseling and litigation. I participated in pharmaceutical litigation under the Hatch-Waxman Act, prosecuted patents in the U.S. and internationally and conducted due diligence in valuation of patent portfolios. I am immeasurably better prepared for my legal career having had this invaluable opportunity.”

Gibbons has also found that the apprenticeship program has numerous internal benefits. For example, it allows the firm the opportunity to vet associate candidates’ qualifications before making more substantial firm investments into their training. It also provides excellent mentoring opportunities for junior and mid-level associates.

Given the longstanding relationship between Gibbons and Seton Hall Law, as well as Dunican’s own experiences as an alumnus, it is perhaps not surprising that a Seton Hall graduate was hired as the first participant in the fledgling program. The Gibbons Institute of Law, Science & Technology at Seton Hall Law, funded with a $1 million endowment from Gibbons, is a forum for lawyers, judges, scientists and government officials to discuss legal, political and social concerns inherent in an environment of rapid technological evolution. Through the Institute, Seton Hall also advances degree programs that better meet the needs of industries facing these cutting-edge legal challenges. David De Lorenzi serves as the Co-Chair of the Gibbons Institute.

Dunican himself was named the Law School’s 2011 Distinguished Alumnus. “Gibbons is proud to employ so many talented Seton Hall Law graduates, whether they are partners, counsel, associates or apprentices,” he says. “As a former student, I know that the rigorous academic program, coupled with the administration’s practical guidance, turns out stellar attorneys, and Jay Cahill is one example.”

Cahill was so well prepared, in fact, that in the fall of 2011, he was promoted to associate, and Gibbons hired its second apprentice, once again in the Intellectual Property Department.

De Lorenzi concludes, “Our apprenticeship program is the latest constructive strategy in our firm’s response to clients’ needs, adding service and value in an ever-changing legal marketplace. I highly recommend that other law firms adopt the model.”

Pictured from Gibbons P.C., from left: Patrick C. Dunican Jr. '91, Chairman and Managing Director; John J. Cahill '10, Associate; and David E. De Lorenzi, Chair of the Intellectual Property Department and Co-Chair of the Gibbons Institute.