Perks / Fringe Benefits

columbia law school logo.jpgTuition at Columbia Law School this year is $48,004 (which doesn’t include $1,638 for health insurance and a $95 “transcript fee”). The estimated living cost for an academic year is $21,263. Putting it all together, students are looking at more than $70,000 for a year of legal education, during the worst recession in the legal industry most people can remember.
You’d think all of that would at least buy you a plastic fork at lunchtime. But you’d be wrong. Tipsters report that Columbia is now charging $.15 for plasticware in the law school cafeteria.
I’ve been doing this job for over a year now, and in that time some pretty petty cutbacks have scrawled across my inbox. But this might be the most outrageous “reverse perk” of all.
Let’s take a stroll through some other recession cutbacks.

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Quinn logo.jpgWe are fighting two wars, the economy is in the toilet, and the assassinations of Biggie and Tupac remain unsolved, but our elected leaders have spent a lot of time concerning themselves with soda (a.k.a: pop). Literally, the President of the United States is concerned about this.
Here in New York, wealthy overlord mayor Michael Bloomberg has an entire ad campaign running against soda. It’s probably just a precursor to the soda tax that is often talked about.
As a meat-eating smoker who detests physical activity and enjoys it when cows are fed beer, I’m immune to the so-called “doctors” and their calls for basic health. To me, taxing soft drinks is a violation of the social compact.
But in Biglaw, the war against soda is on. Foley & Lardner has already taken up arms against soft drinks. And it looks like Quinn Emanuel will be next.
Details after the jump.

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Lawyer no pants.jpgLike most days, I started my morning with a Red Bull and the best morning man in the business, Pat Kiernan. Everything was proceeding normally, until I received this tip in the ATL inbox:

Women lawyers at City firm Clifford Chance have been given a £90 lingerie allowance.

Now, as you can well imagine, I don’t normally “spring” into anything — much less action. But within nanoseconds of receiving this information, I fired off a flurry of emails.
It turns out that the story comes from the Guardian – U.K. Here are some additional details about this (lacy?) fringe benefit:

Women lawyers at top City firm Clifford Chance are bucking the trend for reduced expenses now that their £90 lingerie-and-blouse allowance, if they work later than 11pm, has been reinstated. Inevitably dubbed the “90 nicker knicker allowance”, this may or may not be the most reliable indicator yet that the credit crunch is over. (Business is apparently so hectic that the firm has also installed sleeping pods.)

If you “work” later than 11 o’clock, you get to buy new panties? Why didn’t I think of that? More importantly, why didn’t Ben Franklin think of that and put it in the Constitution?
After consulting colleagues in London, a spokesperson for Clifford Chance in New York got back to me about bringing this commitment to sensual excellence to America. Sadly, it turns out that what sounds like one of the greatest Biglaw perks ever is in fact just a pedestrian acknowledgment of basic hygiene.

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Foley Lardner LLP logo Above the Law blog.jpgFirst they came for the Kleenex. Then they came for the coffee.
All around the country, law firms large and small are cutting costs by revoking perks. Today we heard from an unhappy camper — perhaps deprived of their customary caffeine? — at Foley & Lardner:

I can handle them taking away the Christmas party and giving us a 10% pay cut. But ratcheting up the cost of my soda by 150% is where I draw the line!

From an internal memo that went around this morning:

Vending machine prices – It has been several years since we last changed the price of beverages in the vending machines, yet our costs have increased steadily over those years. In order to bring the prices we charge in line with current costs, the price for soda and water will increase to $.75 and the price for juice will increase to $1.00. The new prices are still well below those found in public vending machines or stores, but will reduce or eliminate the need for the office to subsidize these items.

Frankly, we’re a bit puzzled. Isn’t it in Foley’s business interest to have well-caffeinated associates? Could the associates deprived of discounted Dr. Pepper have a Good Samaritan claim — oh, never mind….
The full memo — apparently there’s no such thing as a free lunch, at least at Foley & Lardner — after the jump.

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McDermott logo.JPGIt has been a tough two weeks for employees at McDermott Will & Emery. First the firm cut the salaries of summer associates. Then MWE fired 72 people.
Today, word came down to all associates and non-attorney personnel that the firm is also cutting benefits. A firm-wide memo explained:

The Firm has evaluated its employee benefit plans and is making changes effective July 1, 2009.

We began our evaluation late last year in response to the deteriorating economy and the fact that changes to employee benefits plans were occurring throughout corporate America. After a thorough review by our benefits consultants, we were informed that our plans were above market and that specific changes, if implemented, would bring our plans more in line with the market.

Right. Who wants to pay an “above market” benefit package?
Remember, McDermott is the firm that canceled aspects of its coffee service. At the point where the firm is looking to save nickels and dimes on coffee, it shouldn’t be surprising that it has found a way to save some money on more important employee benefits.
A tipster reports that the top line changes to MWE’s benefit structure include an increase in some premiums and deductibles, as well as a reduction in the percentage of pharmaceutical costs that are covered by the firm’s health plan. Suddenly, the nationwide health care debate expected to take place in Congress this summer just became much more important to employees at McDermott.
In fairness, MWE isn’t the first firm to go down this path. Last month, Kirkland & Ellis made similar changes to its health care coverage for associates.
Read the full memo after the jump.

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burch porter and johnson working out in the storage room.jpgNot all firms are cutting back on the perks. The Memphis Commercial Appeal has an enthused article today about the perks to be had at the small Tennessee firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson.
The article, “Legal firm helps its employees find essential balance,” talks about the firm’s AMAZING perks:

Something refreshing for body and soul is happening within the 119-year-old walls that house a venerable Memphis law firm.
Refreshing as a good yoga session. Strengthening as a brisk core-body workout. And uplifting as guest speakers whose work has made Memphis a better place.

Sweet. You can work out at work! And they friggin’ bring in guest speakers at lunch. Wow! Do they have as much free coffee as you can drink too?
If you thought firm life in Memphis couldn’t compare to Biglaw in the big city, think again:

That quest for balance explains why Leah Hillis strolled down the hallways on a recent lunch hour wearing workout clothes for a yoga session.
The associate attorney headed for the firm’s large, third-story storeroom overlooking Court Square… Other exercise classes to strengthen the core-body are Mondays and Fridays in the same unfinished space, which holds files of old cases, surplus furniture and cleaning supplies.
The classes are inexpensive: $4 for yoga and $3 for the core-body sessions.

Only $4 to work out in the storage closet!
If that’s not your cup of tea, you can spend lunch with a guest speaker during one of the firm’s “fireside chats” in the Crump Room. A recent speaker mentioned in the article is a Holocaust survivor. Fun times.
Law and life: Legal firm helps its employees find essential balance [Memphis Commercial Appeal]

kirkland ellis logo.JPGLaw firms are dealing with the Great Recession in many different ways. As we’ve chronicled in these pages, layoffs and salary cuts are commonplace, practically clichéd.
Some firms are cutting costs more creatively. From a source at Kirkland & Ellis:

We just got a memo from K&E about a massive increase in our health care premiums. I’m not happy at all…. By my rough math, my deductible tripled, but the cost increased $100/month. So they’re screwing us two ways. Again, if my math is right.

From a second tipster:

This change effectively reduces associate salaries by approximately $1,000-$2,000 per year, although made under the guise of a change in the health care plan (perhaps in attempt to avoid blog coverage of salary cuts?).

K&E’s health care coverage was already pretty poor compared to other biglaw firms. This change makes their health care for associates (and other employees earning more than $90K) even worse. Also disturbing is that part of the justification for the change is to “bring the amount paid for health care coverage for associates closer to the amount paid by partners of the Firm…..”

My (albeit limited) understanding of health care coverage for partners in partnerships is that by its nature it is always different from the partnerships’ actual employees (i.e., associates)…. Additionally, we all know K&E partners make a ton of money (as evidenced by their high ppp, which have not been reduced). While associates at Kirkland are definitely well compensated, they work brutal hours for that money, and enacting a salary cut in the guise of bringing partners health care cost “in line” with associates seems greedy and ill-advised.

Full memo, in all of its hyper-technical glory, after the jump.

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Fried Frank logo.jpgAs many of you know, part of the problem firms are facing during these challenging times is that clients won’t pay their bills. Lawyers can’t get paid unless clients pay.

Whether or not clients are willing or able to pay, it certainly won’t happen unless they are billed. Hence, as most associates already know, the days of delinquent time entry are at an end.

But Fried Frank is taking it to a whole new level. Instead of making sure your time is up to date every month or every couple of weeks, Fried Frank wants attorneys to accurately close out their time every single day. This is from a firm-wide memo that went out last week:

The importance of accurately billing and recording time – both from an economic and an ethical standpoint – cannot be overemphasized. Accuracy is essential both for the Firm and its clients. To ensure accuracy, it is Firm policy that attorney time must be entered and released on a daily basis. This memorandum covers the Firm’s current client billing policies and guidelines.

Most of Fried Frank’s billing policy is pretty standard and common sense stuff (you can download the full policy after the jump). But there are some significant changes.

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kleenex.jpgWe’ve been providing extensive coverage of the economic troubles of Biglaw. But what about smaller firms in smaller markets? An ATL reader from a 35-attorney firm in St. Paul, Minnesota wrote to us about perk cuts in SmallLaw:

As of December, my firm no longer provides Kleenex. So now, when I am crying my bitter tears of disappointment about my career path, I am reduced to tearing out pages from various books in my office. I started with the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. It seemed somehow appropriate.

Even stranger? They actually raised our technology stipend this year, but cut the Kleenex.

We suspect Weil attorneys would sacrifice their Kleenex to get their tech stipend back.

Impressed by the tipster’s wit, we wrote a note of thanks, including an inquiry as to whether bathroom supplies were still pro bono.

There has been some concern regarding the toilet paper, but I think management is fearful enough of potential poo-flinging incidents that they wouldn’t dare tighten the purse strings that tightly.

Weil.gifFor Biglaw technophiles, one of the nicest firm perks is the technology stipend: a couple of thousand dollars to lavish on a new shiny toy. With the BlackBerry Curve 8900 debuting to rave reviews, and rumors in the tech world of a new iPhone on the horizon, there are lots of toys to get worked up about these days.

Alas, associates at Weil, Gotshal & Manges will not be taking part in the tech spending frenzy. One associate reports that their stipend fell victim to economic pressures last week:

They eliminated our $2K tech stipend for first and second years ($4K for the first two years). It was a bit strange, though, because anyone who had used their $2K before today gets reimbursed. So if you bought a laptop yesterday, you get a laptop. Otherwise, no laptop for you!

Congratulations to all Weil associates who placed their laptop orders in the first two weeks of January.

Tech toys are not the only perk being reversed. The associate tells us that the partner mentoring budget was cut as well.

What’s the latest perk erosion at your firm? Feel free to discuss in the comments or to send us a tip.

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