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Chapman and Cutler Blazes The Trail of Tiers

Chapman Cutler LLP AboveTheLaw Above the Law blog.jpgWhat’s the hot new trend in Biglaw? Two-track systems for associates. They’re regarded as a sensible way for law firms to address the twin challenges of (1) higher associate salaries and (2) associate attrition (often due to a frustration with long hours).
Here’s word of the latest law firm to join the party, from (reg. req’d):

Chapman and Cutler, a Chicago-based firm with three offices and about 220 attorneys, has joined the parade of firms boosting first-year associate pay to $160,000, but the firm is taking a new path once associates reach their second year.

Second-year associates can opt for one of two compensation tracks at the firm under a new system that took effect last month, said Rick Cosgrove, who is chief executive partner at the firm. They can choose to work fewer hours at a lower pay level or more hours at a higher salary level, he said.

Cosgrove declined to specify the hours required and related pay rates under the new pay program for competitive reasons.

If you have info on the Chapman and Cutler scale that you’d be willing to share, please email us. According to a poster at Greedy Chicago:

The higher track is essentially Biglaw market, so long as you hit 2000 billables/year. The lower track is compressed to about $5k-$10k/year, depending on class year, and you need to hit 1850.

Other firms with two-track systems (click on each firm’s name for a memo and/or details): Hogan & Hartson, Wiley Rein, Fenwick & West, and Thelen (formerly Thelen Reid, and FYI, “Thelen” rhymes with “wheelin'”; see here).
Do you have an opinion about this two-tiered approach? If so, vote in our reader polls, after the jump.

One might think, under a “more choice is always better” rationale, that two-tier systems are great. But here’s one possible complication, from the recent press conference of Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession:

Q: What about firms with two-track systems, where lawyers can decide how much they want to bill? Are they a viable solution to the problem of attrition?

A: Possibly, but we need to do more research on this. Do two-track systems create a stigmatized “mommy track”? Some firms say they don’t disclose who is on which track, but some sources at those firms find laughable the notion that you don’t know who is on which track.

We’re trying to get a rough sense of how people feel about two-track systems for associates. Take our highly unscientific, vaguely-worded reader polls. The first considers the issue from the point of view of the law firms, the second from the point of view of the associates.

Are two-track systems for law firm associates good for the associates?
Disagree free polls

Chicago Firm Creates 2 Tiers of Associates [ABA Journal via Blogonaut]
Cash Caste System: Firm Offers Associates Choice of Pay and Hours Levels [ (registration required)]
Re: Chapman Salaries [Greedy Chicago]
Earlier: ATL Field Trip: The Building a Better Legal Profession Press Conference

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