Associate Salaries

Scenic waterfront of Wheeling, West Virginia. And the town got a traffic light too!

We’ve written extensively about the offices of Orrick in Wheeling, West Virginia. It’s the place where non-partner track associates go to perform the kind of quasi-paralegal tasks that you really shouldn’t have to pay somebody $160,000 a year to get done.

Here’s the thing about these “onshore,” “insourcing” operations: they are successful. Ridiculously successful. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Orrick chairman Ralph Baxter called the decision to open the Wheeling center “one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made for the firm and our clients.” And that’s coming from a man who made the smart decision not to merge with Dewey Ballantine.

That’s why every Biglaw managing partner, and every law student thinking of taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to law school, should pay attention to what’s going on in Wheeling…

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What Husch Blackwell first-years look like right now.

* The Apple Samsung carnival returns to court today. I can’t wait to see what happens. We will probably have more on this later. [Bloomberg Businessweek]

* After being found guilty of judicial misconduct for misappropriating public funds, Michigan state Judge Sylvia James will be removed from the bench for the remainder of her term. [Detroit Free Press]

* London-based Herbert Smith poached six partners from Chadbourne, including the head of the firm’s litigation group, Thomas Riley, and Gregory Loss, who helmed the products liability group. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* San Bernardino is the newest California city to declare bankruptcy. The city apparently has over $1 billion in debt. I wonder if they had to cut their prosecutors’ salaries also. [Wall Street Journal]

* First-year associates at Husch Blackwell will see a nice salary bump this year. Oh boy! [Blog of the Legal Times]

* President Obama nominated prosecutor Pamela Chen to be a new judge for the Federal District Court in New York. If confirmed, she would become the second female Chinese-American federal judge in U.S. history, and also would be one of the first openly lesbian federal judges. [Metro Weekly]

* Republicans filibustered the Obama administration’s high-priority cybersecurity bill. [New York Times]

Last month, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) released information about the overall employment rate for the class of 2011 — information that seemed dismal, at best. The American Bar Association then followed up with its own employment data, and it was “just as dire” as everyone expected, if not worse.

We know that the overall employment rate for the class of 2011 is lower than it’s been in 17 years. But even members of the class of 2011 who managed to secure employment have been screwed. Median starting salaries for new law school graduates have dropped by 35% over the past two years.

Since prospective law students are not great with facts and numbers, NALP was kind enough to put together some pretty pictures to help people understand….

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Big Bay Boom

* What kind of a Dewey pun will be used later today when we discuss this global “clawback” deal for former D&L partners? I dunno, but “Dewey know how f**ked we are?” seems rather appropriate at this point. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Judge Lucy Koh recused herself from a Facebook privacy lawsuit without providing a reason for doing so. Given that a petition to impeach her popped up online, she probably doesn’t want to piss off any other tech companies right now. [Reuters]

* Mississippi: a state where legislators want to protect women from unscrupulous abortion practitioners their own choices about their bodies. A judge has extended a temporary order to allow the state’s only abortion clinic to remain open. [CNN]

* Good news, everyone! Median starting salaries for recent law school graduates are no longer in the six-figure range due to an “erosion in Biglaw jobs.” Still think you’re going to make big bucks? [ABA Journal]

* A San Diego, California fireworks fiasco that lasted all of 15 seconds yielded not only a bunch of fabulously entertaining YouTube videos, but also great lawsuit fodder for environmental groups. [National Law Journal]

* Note to unemployed law school graduates in New Jersey: selling black-market kidneys isn’t a half-bad career choice, because if you get caught, you’ll likely only be sentenced to 30 months in prison. [Bloomberg]

I worked for twenty years at the darkest of the black-box compensation law firms: No one knew what anyone else was being paid, and the firm forbade talking about compensation. Here’s the curious part: We obeyed.

I saw the raised eyebrows of partners considering moving laterally to my firm: “Right — no one talks about compensation. You guys must talk about it all the time, just like we do at my firm. It can’t be a secret.”

Wrong. We really, honest-to-God did not talk about compensation. The subject just didn’t come up.

I’ve heard second-hand that this is true for other black-box firms, too. The managing partner of a different large, black-box comp firm recently told one of my colleagues: “Once you take compensation out of the limelight and forbid people from talking about it, then people stop talking about it. The subject drops off the table.”

That sets the stage: At firms where lawyers are permitted to talk about each other’s compensation, they do. And at firms where lawyers are prohibited from talking about compensation, they don’t.

Riddle me this: In corporate law departments, we are not prohibited from discussing each other’s compensation, but we don’t do it anyway. Why is that?

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Earlier this week, we brought you some news about an “excellent position” that a tipster found on Boston College Law School’s Symplicity site. As a quick refresher, BC Law touts a median starting salary of $160,000 for graduates in the class of 2010 who entered into private practice. This job… doesn’t come anywhere close to that number.

The position in question promised benefits such as malpractice insurance, health insurance, a clothing allowance, and an MBTA pass, but the starting salary was only $10,000. The MBTA pass must’ve been thrown in as a housing benefit, because the firm had to have known that on a salary that’s below minimum wage, their new associate would be forced to live in the Boston subway system.

As we noted in Morning Docket, one of the firm’s hiring partners has now spoken out about the job, and a spokesman from Boston College Law has come to the school’s defense, too. Let’s take a look at some of their bullsh*t explanations rationales for posting this “excellent position”….

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So, we often bring you stories about terrible job offers for recent law school graduates. And we often bring you stories about how law school statistics about the success of their graduates can sometimes be misleading.

Today, let’s put those stories together. Let’s take a look at a job that will pay you way below minimum wage that’s being offered to law grads from the same school that proudly boasts a “median” private practice salary of $160,000 within nine months of graduation.

Juxtaposition for the win….

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a good New York to 190 post. As we’ve discussed before, associate salaries at New York law firms are long overdue for a raise. Starting salaries have stagnated in New York.

What’s worse, total associate compensation has gone down this year from last year, thanks to Cravath’s low bonus and the absence of spring bonuses. The buying power of a New York associate is pathetic.

But one new firm in New York seems poised to change that. The firm isn’t nearly as big as our salary market leaders, but the firm is leaving the stagnated Cravath salary scale in the dust…

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Today we bring you good news and bad news from Dickstein Shapiro, a prominent Am Law 200 firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. (with offices in five other locations). Let’s start with the good news.

The good news: last month, the firm brought associate salaries up to the market scale (i.e., $160K for first-year associates, $170K for second-years, $185K for third-years, etc.). As you may recall from some of our prior coverage, for a time Dickstein was paying below-market salaries, pursuant to a non-lockstep compensation system.

(A pay-related aside: it seems that we never covered the most recent bonus cycle at Dickstein. If you have info you can share, on bonuses or salaries or anything else about the firm, please email us, subject line “Dickstein Shapiro.”)

Now, on to the bad news….

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In late February, bonuses were announced at Jenner & Block. The firm has an individualized bonus system, so there’s no table to pass along.

And it’s harder to assess associate reactions to bonuses in a non-lockstep system. But we’ll give it a shot, and we’ll also share with you some information provided by the firm itself….

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