Without paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, clerks, and receptionists, the entire Biglaw model could come to a screeching halt. Speaking as a former legal assistant and full-time law clerk, I know this for a fact.

For some attorneys, if members of the support staff weren’t there to assist, important letters would go unwritten, coffee mugs would go unfilled, pleadings would go unproofread, and envelopes would go unlicked. So attorneys, always treat staff members graciously and respectfully — you never know when you’ll need them to get you out of a bind.

All that being said, we were a little bit shocked when we learned about what is allegedly happening at one of the world’s largest law firms, Baker & McKenzie. Apparently some members of the support staff aren’t getting the kind of support they need….

We recently received this interesting tip about the situation that is currently going on in the San Diego office of Baker & McKenzie:

Staff at the Baker & McKenzie San Diego office has been notified, for the fourth year in a row, that they will NOT be getting raises. Last year, no raises were given, but they did give [minimal and unimpressive] bonuses… That’s appreciation!

The announcement about the staff raises, or lack thereof, was allegedly made at the firm’s monthly office-wide happy hour. Not such a happy hour, if you ask me. Apparently no email was sent because the powers that be were afraid that it would end up on Above the Law. Go figure.

From what we understand, the San Diego office of Baker & McKenzie isn’t that large. The staff there consists of about four legal secretaries, three paralegals, a mailroom clerk, a file room clerk, a file room manager, a receptionist, and a marketing director. With a staff of roughly twelve, one would assume that such a large law firm would be able to foot the bill when it comes to salary raises and bonuses.

I spoke to a second source over the phone last night, and this person confirmed that the staff in the San Diego office has not received a raise in four years. Our source also mentioned that while all staff members did receive a bonus, the amounts were quite small and allegedly reflected favoritism rather than performance.

In light of these allegations of unfairness, we reached out to Baker & McKenzie for comment. A firm spokesperson told us:

For privacy and confidentiality reasons, we will not share the salary or bonus specifics for this or other offices. But the simple truth is that San Diego staff who have met their goals and performed at or above an acceptable level have received pay increases and bonuses in recent years.

As in any business, the exact salary increase and bonus amounts may vary from year to year — keep in mind the severe economic downturn of 2008-2010 which impacted all law firms. And increases also vary by individual because performance varies from person to person.

But the bottom line is this: qualified San Diego staff have received pay increases and bonuses in recent years.

While it’s true that Baker & McKenzie started slashing salaries and conducting layoffs in 2009, we’re now in 2011. And multiple tipsters allege that partners at the firm’s San Diego office are living large — traipsing off to summer homes, taking vacations allegedly costing over $40,000, and dropping $1,000 on dinners.

So our question is this: with two tipsters claiming that not a single staff member received a raise in four years with the firm, and with a firm spokesperson claiming that everyone who performs well receives a raise, have all of the staff members at Baker & McKenzie been victims of cheapness? Or have they just been “underperforming”?

Either way, money makes the world go ’round, but the world has stopped spinning for some people at Baker & McKenzie.

P.S. If you’d like to bring our attention to allegations of cheapness at your firm, feel free to email us.

Earlier: Previous ATL coverage of Baker & McKenzie


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