Over a year ago, Skadden announced its Sidebar Plus program. Skadden gave associates the option to take a one-year deferral, for one-third of their Skadden salary.

All indications suggest that the program was a huge success. Skadden received so many volunteers that it had to turn some people away. Skadden associates received varied and interesting experiences during their year off. And the program was heralded in the mainstream media.

Skadden associates are set to return to the firm in May. After being away from the firm for a year, what status will these returning Sidebar associates have upon their return?

When Skadden announced the Sidebar program, the firm promised that associates who received relevant experience would return to the firm bumped up to the next class level. Associates who sat on the beach for a year would return at the same level they were at when they left. Here’s how the firm put it last year:

Determination of class status upon return will be based upon the nature of the work done during the program.

Is that happening? According to some returning associates, it depends on how you interpret the phrase “upon return.” A tipster reports:

We’re set to return to Skadden in May. When we left, we were told in person “When you come back seniority will be dependant on what you did while you were gone.” … But a few weeks ago, we received word that all of us would be coming back at the same year we were when we left.

Everybody comes back at the same year, Skadden will determine class status at the annual review [near the end of the year].

Other Skadden tipsters noted that they believed their experience warranted a class-year raise. They felt that “upon return” means that Skadden should make a seniority evaluation in May, not at the end of the year. But the tipsters say that Skadden is interpreting the “upon return” language against the clear meaning of the phrase:

They’re trying to lawyer the lawyers.

But other sources we’ve spoken to say that Skadden has given an extra year of seniority to some associates. They claim that Skadden has adhered to both the letter and the spirit of their word.

We reached out to Skadden about the conflicting reports. Here’s what the firm had to say:

We consider the Sidebar Plus program a great success. Attorneys had a wide range of experience and, as we had originally stated, class status of those returning is based on the nature of the work they performed.

Here’s to hoping that associates who worked hard during their deferral receive the salary they were expecting.

Earlier: Skadden Offers a Voluntary Deferral Option


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