Biglaw, Boutique Law Firms, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Money, Skaddenfreude

A Question for Biglaw Associates: Your Money, or Your Life?

scales of justice Above the Law.jpgThe interesting comment thread to our recent post about the Seyfarth Shaw memo — aka “We’re on the List of Shame, and We’re Telling You We’re Not Going” — reminded us of something we meant to link to earlier.
It’s an article, from this month’s ABA Journal, reporting the results of a survey of young lawyers. The survey focused on the trade-off between compensation and billable hours — in other words, money versus lifestyle. Here’s a summary of the results:

[I]f associates were given an opportunity to work—and earn—a little bit less, would they?

Yes, say an overwhelming number of young lawyers who participated in an unscientific online survey conducted by the ABA Journal in November. Respondents identified themselves as associates.

Of the 2,377 respondents who answered all or part of the survey, 84.2 percent indicated they would be willing to earn less money in exchange for lower billable-hour requirements.

A sizable minority of associates are looking for a big workload cut—31.9 percent of respondents favored a 20 percent reduction in billable hours. That was followed by a 10 percent cut in hours (chosen by 27.8 percent of respondents), a 15 percent cut (14.3 percent), a 25 percent reduction (13.5 percent) and a 5 percent cut (4.3 percent).

Heck, who wouldn’t want to work less? But the survey respondents were willing to put their money where their mouths are:

A majority of respondents—no matter how much less they wanted to work—were willing to accept a pay cut equal to the percentage reduction in their workload. (Though 15.1 percent of those looking for a 20 percent cut in billable hours would be willing to sacrifice 25 percent or 30 percent of their pay for less time at work.)

Could we see a significant rise in either true lifestyle firms, or lifestyle tracks at Biglaw firms — where associates work (and earn) less than the average Biglaw lawyer? It’s doubtful:

[P]artners and consultants say no to the idea, for the most part.

“I don’t think this would work if you want to have a very successful firm,” says Carl A. Leonard, former chairman of Morrison & Foerster. “The world has always been competitive, and it just gets more so.”

These sentiments are echoed by Paul Irving, chairman of Manatt Phelps & Phillips:

[L]owering billable-hour requirements for all his associates, [Irving] says, would not work. The firm has a starting annual salary of $145,000 and a billable-hours requirement of 2,000 hours a year.

“Our experience is that, for the most part, the people we recruit are looking for top compensation and a highly engaging work experience.”

Referring to billing 2,000+ hours, on things like document review or due diligence, as a “highly engaging work experience”? That takes the prize for our “Euphemism of the Day.”
(And that’s no mean feat. The Seyfarth Shaw memo is FULL of great doublespeak.)
The Ultimate Time-Money Trade-off [ABA Journal]
Earlier: Skaddenfreude: Seyfarth Shaw Makes Itself At Home on the List of Shame

(hidden for your protection)

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