Despite making six figures, some Biglaw associates are still unhappy with the amount of money they take home. Starting salaries at some firms are larger than at others, and for all of the intense labor that comes with being an associate, it’s just not fair.

How should Biglaw firms respond to these complaints? Some of the more enlightened members of law firm leadership would increase their associates’ salaries to match the rest of the market, but most would happily continue to work their associates to the bone and ignore their wage woes.

One firm apparently thought it had found a way around associates’ salary grievances, but it may have just backfired. Straight from the firm that produced the sexist women’s style memo seen ’round the world, we bring you what seems to be one of the craziest incentive programs we’ve ever heard of…

Some people are upset at the London office of Clifford Chance, where various complaints have been lodged over the years as to associate pay. As observers of the U.K. legal market know, associates at British firms make less money than associates at U.S. firms in London. By way of example, in the past, first-years at the Magic Circle firm typically made £64k (about $107,596), while first-years at U.S. firms in London make about £95k (about $160,000).

David Bickerton, managing partner of the firm’s London office, apparently thought he could take associates’ mind off their money problems with a motivational “rewards” campaign, which rises to the level of absurdity. We received several tips on this program, but here’s the very first, so you can see what piqued our interest:

Clifford Chance distributes motivational postcards to its associates. Some are stunned by the self-involved nature of the message and wonder why the law firm thinks it is better than the rest of society.

What the hell? Another one of our informants had more details to disclose about this dubious program:

[Our managing partner] decided to reward employees by giving each person two new CC branded gel pens and a notebook, together with a postcard. We could pick one of two. The first is the Elite one and the other Pride. Each had a motivational quote on, to remind us that Clifford Chance is an Elite institution we should be Proud to work for. Query why we weren’t given both postcards but could only pick one – cost saving?

I think it was some form of initiative which has slightly backfired. Associates (juniors especially) have been complaining about being paid less than US firms pay in London for a long time now, so the pens seem a little insulting.

The motivational postcards just added insult to injury, as people feel that it is not appropriate for the firm to be sending a message to its employees that they are a “select group that is superior” to all others.

Wow. In fairness, Clifford Chance recently raised salaries to essentially fall in line with other Magic Circle firms, but that doesn’t change the fact that management is still paying its associates less money to do basically the same work as those at the U.S. firm down the block. We’re more than willing to bet that associates here in America would riot if they were given pens and pithy quotes instead of cold hard cash.

Unfortunately, per London associates, Bickerton never got the memo that money is the best motivator.

We reached out to Clifford Chance’s London office for comment on what seems to be an internal PR implosion, with associates referring to the postcards as “neo-Nazi” in nature. From a firm spokesman:

It would be wrong to suggest that Clifford Chance branded merchandise is part of any reward strategy at the firm.

We were also directed to a statement from Bickerton on the London office’s raises for associates:

The London office has had another good year, which has seen us instructed on some of the most high-profile work in the market. Our people are achieving exceptional results for clients, helping us once again to take more top directory rankings than any other law firm. These salary increases and bonus awards reflect our appreciation of the consistently high-quality work of our lawyers.

The associates in London might have a point about their salaries, but they may have seen one too many One Direction concerts if they think they’ve been given Clifford Chance swag in lieu of remuneration.

See what all the fuss is about — flip to the next page to take a look at one of Clifford Chance’s “motivational” postcards….


comments sponsored by

10 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments