Biglaw partners may not be having coke-fueled orgies on piles of cash any more, but partners are still doing well compared to mere mortals.

In fact, the biggest rainmakers are doing really really well compared to many of their colleagues. According to Steven Harper, the Northwestern professor and author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), the highest-paid Biglaw partners used to make three times more than their run-of-the-mill colleagues. Today, rainmakers can pull down ten times more.

And this is not good for the legal industry…

Harper explains that the industry’s glorification of average profits per partner — of which we are totally guilty — doesn’t matter much when the spread between the richest and poorest partners renders the mean, well, meaningless.

The culprit is a lateral hiring frenzy that has driven up compensation for partners bringing in a healthy book of business. The economic advantage of hiring books of business is dubious at best, often just a break-even proposition over the long haul, and the non-economic cost to firm culture just isn’t worth it.

As he mentioned when we interviewed him, Harper thinks something closer to lockstep compensation would be better for the long-term health of the profession. But that might involve some Biglaw partners leaving money on the table, so that’s not going to happen.

Earlier: The 2013 Am Law 200: A ‘Hiring Binge’ Hangover
An Interview with Steven Harper, Former Kirkland Partner and Author of ‘The Lawyer Bubble’


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