Associate Salaries, Killing Lockstep

Biglaw Salary Stragglers: Foley & Lardner

We’ve done a number of reports over the last few weeks on salary cuts of 2009 that are being reversed in 2010. Sure, some firms are still trying to be cute when it comes to associate pay. But many Biglaw firms are back on the $160K scale for associate salaries, at least in major markets.

Apparently Foley & Lardner hasn’t received the memo. While New York associates will start at $160K, associates in other big-market Foley offices (like D.C., California, and Chicago) remain stuck at $145K.

We’re not exactly sure why….

Back in February, Foley announced a new (and confusing) merit-based compensation structure. While the February memo was full of corporate double-speak, we were able to distill the starting salary at least. Here’s an except from Foley’s February announcement:

The starting salary in New York this year will be $160,000. In our other major city markets (Boston, Chicago, Washington and all of our California offices), where the recently announced starting salaries of the major law firms have varied to a greater extent, the starting salary will be $145,000. The starting salaries in our other offices will generally maintain the differentials from the major city amounts which have existed in recent years.

While the “using new compensation structure to disguise a pay cut” maneuver was common in 2009, most firms have figured out that this horse(manure) won’t run. Heck, even DLA Piper relinquished its quest to lower associate salaries, moving back to $160K.

But according to sources, Foley is holding fast to its below-market salary structure:

Foley & Lardner remains stuck on a $145,000 pay scale that includes… “anomalies,” such as second-year associates getting paid the same base salary as first-year associates get paid, and third-year associates earning a base salary that is a mere $5,000 more per year than first-year associates.

[Due to salary cuts over the last two years,] third-year associates at Foley & Lardner earn a base salary that is $10,000 less than the salary they earned as first-year associates.

In fairness to Foley, the firm’s decision not to raise salaries could simply reflect sound business judgment on the part of management. We reached out to Foley about its associate compensation, but the firm did not respond to our request for comment.

Going forward, we can only assume that associates at Foley’s offices in D.C., Chicago, and other big markets outside of New York will continue to make less than their peers at many other firms. But how long will that really last? Recruiting season is upon us, after all.

Earlier: Foley & Lardner: New Salary Structure Leaves More Questions Than Answers
Prior ATL coverage on Associate Salaries

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