We have good news for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associates. Salary information is in and most people are getting raises. True-up raises at that. The class of 2008 pulled the short straw, but everybody else seems relatively happy. A tipster reports:
Please post that yesterday MLB essentially unfroze salaries (most ’08 grades only went up to 165 though) but otherwise made everyone whole, retroactive January 1, 2010.
The double-bump raise for veteran associates comes a couple of months after MLB announced big time raises for a select few associates — while most of the firm’s associates were left to wait and wonder. In January, we reported this message from Morgan Lewis Chairman, Francis M. Milone:
After considering all of these factors, we awarded base salary increases of up to $25,000 and incentive bonuses of up to $35,000 to our highest performing associates. As I advised in my November video presentation, we did not reduce associate base salaries.
According to the firm, the decision to give true-up raises to mostly everybody is in keeping with MLB’s new merit-based strategy …
When you step into the killing lockstep zone, your bonus disappears into a black box. A while back, we reported that Bingham McCutchen adopted a lockstep-merit hybrid approach to associate compensation. Base salary would still be lockstep, but the bonus would be merit-based.
When we reported on the Bingham bonus, we noted that the firm intended to pay bonuses generally on the Cravath scale to its associates, based on a number of merit-based factors instead of hours.
But now our tipsters are telling us that some Bingham associates received much less than a Cravath-level payout:
A peek inside the black box, bonuses are generally well below the Cravath scale. The only associates receiving bonuses in the vicinity of the Cravath scale are those that exceeded the 2,100 hour minimum by a few hundred hours. Even bonuses in those instances were barely above the Cravath scale. Amazing considering JayZ just told the Boston Globe that the firm “had our best year ever.” Guess we know where all that money went. Morale is definitely at an all-time low. I would be shocked to see any associates making much of an effort to bill above the 2,100 hour minimum in 2010. I think “why bother” has become the most uttered phrase around the halls of Bingham over the last week.
The good news is that the double salary freeze, which has apparently resulted in first- through third-year associates at Winston all earning $160,000, may be thawing. Managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald sent a memo — this time to its intended recipients — indicating that raises are on the way.
The bad news is that Winston associates don’t know how much of a raise they’ll be getting — and the most they can hope for is a salary that matches the market. The memorandum contains the standard $160K salary scale — 160-170-185-210-230-250-265-280 — but states that “[s]alary levels in each associate class will range up to the maximum base compensation levels set forth” in the memo (emphases added).
The Winston associates we’ve heard from are upset. They’re unhappy not just about the move away from lockstep, but over the firm’s failure to set forth in detail how salaries will be determined. Most of the other firms that have abandoned lockstep have set forth elaborate systems for evaluating associates to determine their compensation and advancement. The Winston memo simply states: “Individual associate salaries will be determined on a case by case basis based on seniority, performance and productivity factors and will be communicated separately to each associate.”
This is a “black box” approach to compensation. It’s used by other big firms — e.g., Jones Day — but it’s a significant departure from Winston’s historical practice. It’s not what Winston associates signed up for when they joined the firm.
But then again, thanks to the Great Recession, lots of Biglaw associates aren’t getting what they expected when they joined their firms. And if associates aren’t happy, with compensation or any other aspect of their employment, their firms will tell them: you’re free to leave. In the words of an unemployed woman quoted in this weekend’s New York Times, “There are no bad jobs now. Any job is a good job.”
There’s a little more bad news about Winston associate salaries. Find out what it is, and read the full Winston & Strawn memo, after the jump.
Maybe Toyota should take a lesson from Bingham McCutchen: don’t try to cut corners when producing a hybrid.
Back in October, Bingham announced that it would be adopting a new “merit-lockstep” hybrid approach to associate compensation. The plan came with the stamp of approval from Bingham partners and associates. And a majority of Above the Law readers also approved of Bingham’s hybrid approach.
Today, Bingham rolled out its hybrid system. The firm is providing true-up, lockstep raises for people who hit 1900 hours. The double bump extends nationally, across all of Bingham’s offices. People who hit 1500 hours will only be getting a single class bump in salary. We understand that only a small percentage of Bingham associates were low enough on hours to be affected by this stratification.
At the low end, people who billed fewer than 1500 hours will have their salaries frozen again.
On the bright side, all of the people who are frozen will have their hours reevaluated in June. If they’re on pace, they’ll get their money.
The Bingham McCutchen lockstep base pay structure is clear and straightforward (see chart after the jump). For bonuses, welcome to the black box that is merit-based compensation.
We’ve been having some fun documenting the curious game of chicken happening in Chicago. The top firms in the city seem to be waiting for each other to set the associate salary market — even though that market has already been set.
At Jenner & Block, “merit-based” salary increases are in effect. But the raise — at least for some people — is nowhere near market salary. One tipster reports:
The situation is bad at Jenner Block. You should write about how cheap the firm is. A title should be something like: “PPP up 33%, Associate Bonuses 33% of Last Years.” Well that is the truth. For the past two years associates who made hours have gotten 5k raises and all others have gotten zero. So, the salary scale, for those that have consistently made hours (worse if you slip a year or have a slow department), is effectively: 160k, 165k, 170k, 180k…. the more senior you get the more the gap between Jenner and the market.
And for bonuses, this year they start at 2k, even for 3rd years.
Well, $5,000 here, $5,000 there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money. I’m sure if our Jenner friends just hang in there for another decade, they will be very happy with their compensation.
According to spokespersons for Jenner & Block, our tipsters are incorrectly reporting their salaries. But the firm isn’t very clear on what salaries Jenner folks are actually receiving.
Details and a statement from the firm, after the jump.
It looks like Pillsbury is back to communicating important information via firm-wide memo, instead of via cell phone conversation on the Acela. Yesterday, the firm indicated that it is thinking about moving away from lockstep associate compensation, but it is not killing lockstep just yet.
Instead, Pillsbury announced lockstep raises — they’ll be true up raises if you hit your hours in New York. In other offices, Pillsbury has decided to lowball the market. From the firm-wide memo:
So, it’s a true-up raise for some, a single class thaw out for those low on hours, and a salary cut for many outside of New York. But at least it’s clear.
Pillsbury’s New York bias when it comes to salaries extends to the firm’s decisions regarding bonuses. Details after the jump.
Add Dickstein Shapiro to the list of firms that have decided to do away with lockstep associate compensation. As of January 22, Dickstein will adopt a new merit-based compensation system. Like many firms that have abandoned lockstep, Dickstein will be using a three-tiered system, similar to Orrick’s compensation structure.
Starting salary for new Dickstein associates will be $145,000. Or maybe it will be $160,000. Honestly, I can’t tell you with certainty what new associates will be making.
It’s not my fault. I read the original memo and everything. I talked to friends and sources and a spokesperson for the firm. I prayed on it. I just can’t seem to pin down one solid number for first-year associate salaries.
After the jump, why don’t you guys take a look at the memo? Maybe you’ll have more success divining its meaning than I did.
Class of 2008 — $7,500
Class of 2007 — $10,000
Class of 2006 — $15,000
Class of 2005 — $20,000
Class of 2004 — $25,000
Class of 2003 — $30,000
Class of 2002 — $30,000
Cravath’s bonus announcement is always important because the market tends to follow Cravath — as it did last year. Skadden’s 2008 bonuses, at roughly twice Cravath’s levels, were ignored.
Could this year be different? Are the Cravath bonus levels low enough such that a firm of similar or even lower prestige will try to better CSM? Or will other Biglaw shops simply avail themselves of the political cover provided by Cravath — which is arguably what happened last year, when Skadden’s generous bonuses went unmatched (excluding Wachtell)?
So, readers, what do you think? Read the FULL MEMO, take a READER POLL, and COMMENT — after the jump.
This year’s famous hike to $160,000 in starting pay for first-year associates did not buy hiring firms anything in terms of separating themselves from their competition. The firms that can afford to pay more will pay more; but there is a price point that not all Am Law 200 firms will be willing to match. We’re confident that that number begins with a 2.
[T]he Big Law market is the midst of a “separating equilibrium”. In short, a few dozen elite firms are pulling away from their BigLaw peers in the competition for premium, price-insensitive work….
So what does the future look like? BigLaw will no longer be synonymous with “large full service firms”, which was the mantra throughout the ’90s. Successful financial services and labor & employment lawyers will tend to migrate to different firms [i.e., super-lucrative and less-lucrative firms, respectively].
In terms of leading New York firms — the shops with big-time transactional practices, and profits per partner of $2 million or more — we’d speculate that a move, to a starting salary at or close to $200,000, will happen in the next twelve to eighteen months. If it doesn’t happen in time for this fall recruiting cycle, it will happen in time for the next one.
The foregoing analysis assumes, of course, that U.S. law firms chug along nicely over the next year or two. If we have a general economic meltdown, then all bets are off.
Wow. Late Friday afternoon, we briefly discussed an article by D.C. bar president James J. Sandman, a partner at Arnold & Porter in Washington, bemoaning the recent associate pay raises. The article generated a strong reaction, judging from the avalanche of reader comments (75 and counting; mostly insightful, and mostly disagreeing with Sandman).
We emailed James Sandman, offering him space in ATL to offer a further defense of his article. We haven’t heard back from him yet; but if we do, we’ll let you know.
In the meantime, here’s an American Lawyer article that raises similar concerns. It’s a news rather than opinion piece, but the partners quoted in it voice sentiments similar to Sandman’s. Some excerpts:
A partner at Greenberg Traurig was meeting with attorneys from five law firms when he learned that Simpson Thacher & Bartlett had raised associate salaries across the board.
“Every BlackBerry in the room started flashing,” he recalls.
It was 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 22. At least five firms matched the next day, and by the end of the week, the sticker price for a new associate in the New York market was up for the second time in a little more than a year — to $160,000.
The raise surprised competitors and legal consultants alike and caused many to question whether another pay increase makes sense. They point out that pay isn’t associates’ main gripe (uncertain partnership prospects and grueling hours top this list). Robert Link Jr., managing partner of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, goes even further. If improving associate morale was Simpson’s goal, says Link, the raise may do more harm than good.
A higher salary “puts more pressure on productivity and hours,” says Link, exacerbating precisely the quality-of-life issues that make junior lawyers unhappy.
“I don’t know what Simpson was thinking,” he adds.
It’s similar to Sandman’s comment:
“I don’t understand what causes a firm be the first to increase the salary of a brand-new lawyer from an already eye-popping $145,000 to $160,000. There is no competitive advantage in doing so. Other firms will surely follow suit, and the firm that led the market will quickly be indistinguishable from the rest of the pack.”
So, what WAS Simpson thinking? Discussion continues after the jump.
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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