Associate Salaries, Sheppard Mullin, Summer Associates

Sheppard Mullin ‘Anomaly’ Leaves First-Years Making Less Than Summer Associates

It’s pretty tough being a first-year associate these days. You’re working hard, you’re terrified of getting Lathamed, and you can’t even complain, because everybody thinks you should be grateful to have a job.

But at least you don’t have to deal with bright and unbroken summer associates, rolling through your office with smoke billowing up their asses at every point. The recession has taken its toll on summer associate programs too.

At Sheppard Mullin, however, summer associates are actually making more money (per paycheck) than first-year associates. In fact, the summers are even making more than some second-year associates.

How did this happen?

Understandably, Sheppard Mullin junior associates are pissed that the summers have come in earning more than they are. A tipster reports:

Sheppard Mullin pays summers $160K but pays first year attorneys $145K and second years $160K. So SAs are paid higher than attorneys who have been on the job about a year and the same as second years who have nearly 2 years of experience. To top that off, if an attorney is “on target” to bill less than 1850 hours they get hit with a 10% pay cut. So if a 2nd year is not on target, they get paid $144K, which is about $26K less than the new market for a second year.

We’ve just been told they are re-thinking the compensation model but they seem to totally miss what an insult it is to current associates to be more worried about recruiting than the attorneys that are working (a lot in most cases) here already. To make it worse, they said they had to go $160K because they had to tell NALP what the rate was for a first year. So the attorneys that are here, the ones they already invested so much money and time in, are pretty peeved and starting to talk openly about the recruiter calls that come constantly.

A spokesperson for Sheppard Mullin corresponded with Above the Law. The firm admits that this is a one-off situation that probably won’t happen again:

Our practice has always been to pay summer associates a salary that is the same as the base salary paid to first-year associates. During 2009, in response to the global recession, the base salary for our first-year associates was $145,000. We also implemented a two-tier base salary that enabled us to continue to advance the overwhelming majority of our associates in seniority and allowed us to avoid significant layoffs.

As peer firms are increasing their base salaries back to pre-freeze levels, we set $160,000 as the base salary applicable to both summer associates and next year’s entering lawyers. The anomaly with respect to our present associates’ base salaries was recently discussed at a meeting of our Associates Forum and we are working with associates to make adjustments that address this.

This all looks like an accident that is now being cleared up. Associates had a problem, they brought it to the attention of the firm (and the larger community), and now Sheppard Mullin is course-correcting.

Gosh, it almost sounds like this is how things are supposed to work.

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Sheppard Mullin

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