Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Law Puts a Positive Spin on Paying Associates Less...

I love mainstream Big Law brown-nosing media manages to put a positive spin on paying associates less.  It's no surprise that the lock-step model is not longer working, especially with the downturn in the economy. The biggest problem with lock-step is the mandatory increase in salary every year.  So law firms are deflating salaries by making it "merit" based:
Olswang is the latest firm to change the way it treats associates, and to set out a more modern, merit-based career path for them. Under its new scheme, which will come into effect on 1 September, there are three levels for associates, and four bands within those levels. Progression to the next band or level will depend on performance and ability rather than the number of years served.
Don't get me wrong.  This definitely makes sense and it was dumb to give salary increases based on time to begin with.  But, I can see where this is going:
The reason for changing to this system was to make sure that we can provide a career path that suits all our associates. People develop at different rates and have different career goals. This way of doing things gives them the opportunities and support to get there. It’s all about flexibility, and giving lawyers a career path that they can understand, and which they feel they have some control over. 
I'm going to take, what some may view, a huge leap. I think that this type of system will keep women associates at "low" salaries.  Well, not all women, but women who want to slow down for limited amounts of time to have children. Well, the proof of my hypothesis will materialize in the next 10 years when women associates are not becoming partners.  We'll see.

I love this nonsensical bull-shit line:
The move towards a freer, more flexible and merit-based system is inevitable in law firms. The legal industry is slowly coming to understand this and in doing so will improve its chances of attracting and retaining the best talent. 
We all know that law firms have nothing to fear regarding attracting and maintaining the best talent out there.  There are no jobs and Big Law is still the most coveted type of legal job out there.  So, this is not about attracting talent.  It's about not paying the talents as much as yesteryear and getting the most out of the talent because nothing will be taken for granted.  You could be a fourth year associate with a first year associate salary, unless you but your hump and waste your twenties to get out of that level.

Like I said before, I'm not mad about this.  But the ceiling on what you can earn as a lawyer is dropping. It was bound to happen.


  1. in 10 years when women associates are not becoming partners? of course, that is what is happening now! but i know you know that.... you will definitely see a larger divergence in pay between men and women down through the associate ranks in years to come because of this, though. of course, that will be the lay-deez fault, because under a "merit" system, if we get paid less, it MUST be because we are worth less! At least that's what the ABA Journal and ATL commenters tell me.....

  2. Merit pay is simply another way to say, starve.

  3. Actually this is a bold move by BigLaw firms, both the boy/girl scouts of america work on a similar merit badge, several tiered/level system. So do after school karate classes for kids aged 8-12. The future is bold and exciting!!!!

  4. I worry not only about women, but minorities of both genders as well. Giving partners a viable discriminatory tool is a bad idea.

  5. Not to nitpick, but male minorities won't be better off than women associates.

    Also, women and minorities don't become partners even now, regardless of how hard they work or anything else. America is still racist and sexist in general, but the legal field just might be the worst out of them all.

    Every time someone brings up the actual numbers though, usually some idiot comes on and posts that there's "affirmative action" or the "race card" or some other crap. I want women and minorities to succeed but after you hear that so many times, and see the discrimination happen all the time, you just want to warn people just to stay away and not challenge the system.



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