There’s a lot of news coming out of Goodwin Procter today. Some of it is even pretty good. In a wide-ranging, firm-wide memo, Goodwin announced bonuses (basically), thawed out salaries (kind of), and indicated an intention to adopt a merit-based compensation structure (sort of).
Let’s start with the bonus news:
Maybe you got a little bit more, maybe you got a little bit less. But if you hit 1,850 hours at Goodwin Procter in 2009, you were in the general vicinity of a Cravath-level bonus.
For salaries it’s a little more complicated.
Goodwin seems to be moving away from lockstep, but slowly.
I believe that somewhere there is a great and all-powerful focus group. I don’t know who makes up this focus group, but I feel strongly that all of the firms have listened to this focus group. And the focus group has said that words like “competency,” “performance” and “merit” are better words than “lockstep, or “experience.” Now, as a writer I tend to think that words — by their very nature — cannot be good or bad. But nobody invited me into this all-powerful focus group. Clearly, any firm that has seen the data from the focus group now knows that “lockstep” is just a bad, dirty word.
I believe this, because I can’t for the life of me explain why so many law firms are trying to distance themselves from a compensation system that has been in place for a long, long time. I mean, are we ancient Egyptians brought to the point where we have to go back and scratch out all mentions of “lockstep” in the annals of law firm lore?
In any event, while Goodwin Procter becomes the latest firm to announce it has hated lockstep associate compensation for years, the firm is not moving away from it immediately. Instead, the firm is going to lift its salary freeze and pay associates — in lockstep — until it sorts out the new structure.
You’ll note that this is only a one-year class raise, not a true-up raise. Class of 2007 associates at Goodwin are pulling in $175K, while their peers at firms that never froze are making $185K.
But at least Goodwin isn’t rushing to use a change to merit-based compensation as a way to hide an associate pay cut. Evidently the firm is going to take its time and try to get merit compensation right. Hopefully that decision also polls well in focus groups.
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of associate bonuses
Prior ATL coverage of killing lockstep