We’ve reported on various firms cutting back some of the “perks” that used to be associated with Biglaw. But Wilmer Hale has decided to hit associates where they eat, literally.
A memo went out to New York associates “updating” the firm’s overtime meal policy. For you law students out there who are not aware of the system, law firms usually allow lawyers to charge late night meals to clients. A long, long time ago astute managers realized that underlings perform better when they are fed. Apparently, there is a complex biological process that allows workers to convert the nutrients found in bread and water into menial legal tasks.
But Wilmer Hale has concluded that adenosine triphosphate is an “optional” luxury for associates lucky enough to work past 8 p.m. Paul A. Engelmayer, managing partner of Wilmer Hale’s New York office, clarified the overtime meals policy this afternoon:
The firm’s policy is to reimburse lawyers and bill clients for up to $30 per overtime meal not simply because a lawyer is present and working at the office at 8PM, but, rather, because the lawyer had to be here at that time to meet a specific client need or deadline. Just because a lawyer chose to work late does not mean that a client should have to pay for his or her food. Partners are constantly writing off evening meals billed to clients where it was impossible to justify to the client why they should be paying for a lawyer’s food. Please don’t bill clients for overtime meals where there isn’t a justification that you’d feel comfortable articulating to the client as to why the client should be paying for it.
I once knew a New York associate who always “chose” to work past 8 p.m. for no good reason. He was a great guy and a good attorney, until “the incident.” Now he lives at Bellevue and eats pudding out of a Redweld.
Look, we all know some associate at the firm who “abuses” the overtime meal system. But the vast majority of people who are working after hours are there because they have to be, not because they want to be and certainly not because Seamless Web is a bigger draw than a beer and a bed.
But Wilmer Hale presses the point, after the jump.
If Wilmer Hale had just left their “update” at that, most associates would have likely taken the whole thing as management boilerplate that had no chance of being enforced in any meaningful way. But Engelmayer really wanted to press the point that associates should not be eating on the company dime:
In some instances, a lawyer may choose to work late here, past 8PM, to catch up on assembled work (sometimes on multiple cases) where there is no client-specific urgency. In such instances, it may be appropriate to bill the firm, though not the client, for the meal. But even there, we ask that people use their judgment and be fiscally responsible.
Hey, maybe this is a genuine attempt by Wilmer Hale to make sure that associates are getting out of the office by 8 p.m. Quality of life is important right?
If you independently were going to work past 8PM anyway regardless of the meal policy, and had logged the requisite 10.5 hours as reflected in the memo [Redacted] circulated, then it’s OK to put in for reimbursement.
Independently going to work past 8 p.m.? I have no idea what that means in the context of this memo. Didn’t Engelmayer just say that nobody should be working past 8 p.m. absent a pressing client deadline?
I think you have to take this memo as blanket cover to deny meal reimbursements to any associate for whatever reason, while maintaining the expectation that associates will be working past 8 p.m. on a regular basis.
Paying for your own food is not a novel concept. Free late night meals is a “perk.” But the firm shouldn’t be taking away a perk and acting as if it is a “clarification” or an “update.”
Just be straight with people: “times are tough, our clients are struggling, try to finish everything by 8 p.m., and if you can’t be prepared to bring your own food.” Contrary to popular belief, associates as a rule are not spoiled brats. They just expect to be treated fairly and in way that is on par with the rest of their peers. If Wilmer Hale wants to take away this perk, just be honest about that and I’m sure both prospective and current associates can take that new information into account when it comes time to decide where they want to work.