Associate Salaries

pay freeze salary freeze pay cut law firm.jpgOn Wednesday, we reported that Patton Boggs was keeping its salary freeze in place. In November, we told you that Covington & Burling was instituting a salary freeze, even though the firm didn’t do it last year.
But the news coming out of D.C. isn’t putting a damper on the holiday hopefulness of some New York-based associates. Above the Law received this question earlier this week:

I’m a senior associate at a large NYC law firm — I’m hearing rumors that some large law firms who have frozen salaries (which unfortunately includes my firm) are preparing for the big thaw — have you guys heard anything to that effect?

Ha. Haha. Unfreezing? Yeah. Let me just ride my unicorn down the streets of El Dorado and see what there is to see.

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Orrick logo.JPGAt an all associates meeting today, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe revealed its much talked about new associate compensation structure. Starting in 2010, Orrick will be moving away from lockstep in a big way.
Essentially, Orrick has separated associates into three classes: associates, managing associates, and senior associates. Advancement from one level to another will be based on merit — not time served at the firm.
The biggest news is that starting salaries are going to remain at the $160K level. Orrick wants to recruit and compete for top talent. The firm isn’t using the move away from lockstep as an excuse to cut first year pay.
And the firm will still pay the prevailing market bonus. In fact, the firm will pay the market bonus, plus a little extra to its highest performing associates. The goal appears to be giving their superstar associates a big reward for good work, instead of reducing costs on the back of associate compensation.
Check out the new salary structure chart from Orrick after the jump.

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Baker Botts logo.JPGBaker Botts will be throwing itself into the killing lockstep camp sometime in 2010. A tipster reports:

So, Baker Botts – Houston (should be firmwide, though I don’t have have all the details) is adopting a form of the Reed Smith pay structure. …
My understanding may be imperfect, but the notion is that it’s something like a three part system of junior associates, mid level associates, and senior associates, with pay discrepancies laid out among the three. No more lockstep. Unclear what the bonus structure is beyond the nebulous “merit” nonsense.

Reed Smith.jpgThe Reed Smith structure has received a lot of attention. Last month, we mentioned that Reed Smith will categorize associates as junior, mid-level, or senior associates. But those classifications won’t necessarily be tied to how long an associate has been out of law school. So you could see a fourth-year classified as a senior associate making significantly more than a sixth-year classified as a midlevel associate.
Today, the Legal Intelligencer reports that the Reed Smith plan will also include a cut in associate salaries and billing rates:

Reed Smith has cut starting salaries by about 20 percent for the 51 first-year associates set to start in January and, in turn, is cutting their billing rates by the same margin.

You can read the full Reed Smith memo about its salary and billing rate reductions after the jump.
Will the Reed Smith system become the template for associate compensation at other firms? Let’s take a look at what Baker Botts is planning.

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(Plus more news from Reed Smith.)

Salary Cuts.jpgHave you noticed that whenever there is a story about the long-term future of associate salaries, there is always a quote from somebody at Altman Weil, the law firm consultancy? And have you noticed that their quotes are often advocating deep cuts in associate pay?
The latest example of this curious phenomenon appears in the Fulton County Daily Report:

Altman Weil’s Oct. 27 program, called “Leverage, Lockstep and the Changing Associate Model,” was for law firm clients.
Altman’s James D. Cotterman, who advises firms on compensation, said associate pay did not drop enough in the recent round of cuts at the nation’s big law firms, which included Atlanta’s largest firms.
Cutting pay from $160,000 to $145,000 was only “about half of what was needed,” said Cotterman. The starting salary at big firms in New York, Washington and Los Angeles was $160,000 before the pay reductions that started last spring.
Cotterman said a $15,000 cut does not make a significant difference in “changing the value equation to clients.”
“They probably should have set pay back a decade, to 1998. That’s what I was expecting,” he said. “This story may not be over yet.”

I don’t see James D. Cotterman advocating that profits per partner go back to 1998 levels. I wonder why?

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Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpg
The 2009 billable year hasn’t even ended at most firms yet, but October has been full of announcements from Big Law firms across the country about major changes to associate compensation.  Check out the ATL Career Center, powered by Lateral Link , for the latest information from the legal markets and updates from users about who is paying what when.  In the last week, we have updated the firm snapshots for Schulte Roth & Zabel, Katten Muchin Rosenman, Morrison & Foerster, DLA Piper, Fenwick & West, Bingham McCutchen, Dorsey & Whitney, Foley & Lardner, and Nixon Peabody.  Below are some recent nuggets of golden and not-so-golden news about compensation from the Career Center’s firm snapshots:

  • This firm announced that, in January 2010, it will move away from a lockstep compensation system to one that emphasizes merit-based factors as a more significant component of compensation decisions.  The firm says the combination of base pay and discretionary and productivity bonuses will keep overall compensation at or above current levels, but associates worry they may see significantly less pay if they don’t achieve the necessary merit marks.
  • This firm has confirmed that it will be paying bonuses in early 2010, an announcement associates can only hope is the first of many.  Although the firm anticipates the amounts will be less than previous years, bonuses are still predicted to range from $5,000 to $50,000.
  • This firm recently cut starting salaries to $145,000 in all of its offices (other than New York and Asia). The firm has indicated it will continue to monitor the situation and may re-adjust salaries (up or down) in light of legal market trends if necessary.
  • This firm is also taking the merit-based compensation route: although it plans to retain a lockstep scale for base salaries, the firm has announced that its practice group leaders will now have greater discretion in awarding year-end bonuses.  Billable hours will continue to factor into bonus determinations, but so will qualitative and quantitative factors, such as financial productivity, profitability and teamwork.

Use the Career Center’s firm snapshots and comparison tool to find out what other bonus and salary changes firms across the country are making.  And as always, we encourage you to send information about your law firm experience to [email protected].

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Reed Smith.jpgEd. note: We mentioned it briefly in Morning Docket, but thought we’d say a bit more (and give folks a place to comment).
A number of large law firms — although, interestingly enough, not the Cravaths and S&Cs and Davis Polks of the world — are moving away from a lockstep system of associate compensation and promotion. See our collected coverage under Killing Lockstep.
The latest one to jump on the bandwagon: Reed Smith. From Ashby Jones of the WSJ Law Blog:

On Tuesday, Reed Smith announced yet another way to skin the cat. Starting early next year, the firm will go to a sort of hybrid lockstep/merit-based pay system for associates, called CareeRS (get it?). Associates will be categorized as junior, mid-level or senior depending not on how many years they’ve served, but on whether they’ve demonstrated certain “core compentencies.” That is, a particularly talented third-year associate might achieve the “mid-level” designation; a fifth-year on a slower pace might still be a “junior.”

According to the firm’s chairman, Greg Jordan, the move was a response, at least in part, to client demands. “The most painful conversation you can have with a client is to tell him that that all of a sudden, you’re charging more for an associate just because the associate has aged a year,” says Jordan. “Something needed to change. The recession made that clear.”

When the WSJ asked Jordan if the majority of associates would progress normally — getting bumped up to midlevel associate after three or so years, and to senior associate after six or so years — he was a bit vague:

“That may be what ends up being the typical pattern. But we really don’t expect that everyone will take this path. Some will advance quickly, others will need time.”

Hmm…. Should this be cause for concern among associates? How many will, like not-so-smart grade schoolers, get “left back” each year?
Some perspectives, after the jump.

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Latham Watkins LLP lw logo.jpgThe decisions Latham & Watkins has made regarding its associates have been well documented in these pages. Because of the firm’s associate layoffs, some people forget that Latham & Watkins was one of the first firms to freeze associate salaries. Latham froze salaries way back in December of 2008.
It would be somewhat fitting if Latham became one of the first firms to unfreeze associate salaries.
For now, the firm isn’t saying anything. Latham spokespeople did not respond to our multiple requests for comment.
But multiple sources inside Latham are preparing for a thaw. And, if true, Latham could go a long way towards answering one of the most important questions we have about making associate pay raises come back again.
Details from our Latham sources after the jump.

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Dorsey Whitney logo.JPGDorsey & Whitney’s managing partner, Marianne D. Short, was making the rounds in the Minneapolis office yesterday, talking to associates there about the future of the firm.
That future might be one without lockstep compensation. A source reports:

[T]he firm [suggested] it was restructuring our compensation. They did not give us any specific details. But, it seems likely that this will result in another large pay cut for associates. While hazy on the details, Dorsey management indicated that the restructuring will be something like this: we will be given a base pay rate which will be below market (whatever that means these days, but regardless, likely well below what we are currently making after our 10% pay cut), which will be supplemented by a ‘bonus’ if we make our hours to bring compensation up to market.

Alright, slow down. While it does appear that Short broached the subject with associates in Dorsey’s Minneapolis office, it appears that there are still a lot of evaluations and reviews that will have to take place at Dorsey before any final decision is made. It is premature to speculate about what kind of new base salary the firm might offer.
But it does look like the firm is considering a new system. We have statements from the firm and more from our tipsters, after the jump.

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Jones Day Logo.jpgHere at Above the Law, we do a lot of work to pierce through the veil of silence regarding compensation at Jones Day. The firm notoriously tries to keep associate salary, partner draws, and bonus information secret. But we’ve been able to report on the Jones Day salary structure and its associate bonuses. We were even able to tell you when Jones Day froze salaries for its staff.
We believe that information wants to be free. But apparently management at Jones Day thinks people are happier when they are kept in the dark. Today, the Recorder reports (subscription) that Jones Days believes its lack of salary transparency makes for a better work environment and has helped the firm make it through the recession. The ABA Journal has this excerpt from the Recorder’s report:

Observers say the law firm’s closed compensation system is helping its efforts to hire quality laterals because partners don’t know what the new hires are paid and can’t complain.
The article notes that the business card for Joe Sims, the lawyer heading up the West Coast expansion, doesn’t indicate his title or business area. His explanation: “We don’t do titles here.”
The story concludes that there are a lot of things Jones Day doesn’t do. “It doesn’t tell its partners what other partners make, it doesn’t issue profit figures, it doesn’t pay bonuses, it doesn’t let partners vote on who will head the firm, it hasn’t conducted mass layoffs, and it doesn’t pay associates in lockstep.”

Partner Joe Sims has talked the talk before on Above the Law. And his firm continues to walk the walk. More details after the jump.

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Fulbright logo.JPGToday is the start of performance review season for associates at Fulbright & Jaworski. As you well know, performance reviews are now very important. We’ve noticed that firms which are miraculously unaffected by the economic recession coincidentally have the toughest performance reviews.
We don’t know if this round of performance reviews will lead to another round of layoffs at Fulbright. But according to an internal Fulbright email obtained by Above the Law, there is a lot on the line even for associates that will keep their jobs at Fulbright. This year’s reviews come with a cash prize — or penalty.
Read the email after the jump.

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