Compensation

Welcome to working in South Carolina!

Stop it South Carolina. Okay, not like everyone in South Carolina, but based on the tips we keep on getting it appears to be one of the worst markets for contract attorneys. This is not the first time the Palmetto State has been featured as one of the worst jobs, and I fear it won’t be the last. Once there are a few bad jobs (particularly as “bad” relates to wages) in a regional market it can trigger an avalanche effect and even staffing agencies and vendors that used to consistently offer projects above the market rate start to heed the downward market pressure.

And I know exactly how it happens…

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

We’ve been enjoying the occasional trip back in time to look at Biglaw in ages past. In prior Flashback Friday posts, we’ve covered such topics as the most prestigious law firms in 1998 and billable hours in the 1990s.

And, of course, we have covered compensation. We’ve done two posts so far looking at associate comp in the 1990s, in New York and in other cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Today we’ll close out the series with an overview of associate pay in the remaining markets of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C….

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It’s always sunny – or raining money? – in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia: it’s all about the Benjamin. The city abounds in tributes to its famous founding father, Benjamin Franklin. It even boasts a museum devoted to his life and times.

And maybe Philly will be all about the benjamins, plural — as in hundred-dollar bills. There’s speculation afoot that the new going rate for first-year associates in this city could rise to $160,000.

What’s the basis of the speculation? And could a Philadelphia pay raise have implications for other markets?

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What’s more stressful: working in-house, or working at a law firm? Conventional wisdom might say that law firm life is more stressful — but that’s not the case for everyone, as recently explained by one of our in-house columnists, Susan Moon.

So in-house lawyers might be more stressed than many people think. But at least they’re getting paid a pretty penny to put up with all these headaches — mo’ problems, mo’ money?

That’s one conclusion to be drawn from Corporate Counsel’s new rankings of the nation’s best-paid general counsel. Conventional wisdom holds that in-house lawyers earn less than their Biglaw counterparts — but top in-house lawyers, the GCs of the nation’s largest companies, earn sums that meet or even exceed Biglaw partner pay….

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Last month, we took a look at associate compensation in the 1990s. Our post focused on the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles. We said that in the future we’d look at remaining major markets: New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C.

Today we’ll tackle Biglaw in the Big Apple. What were NYC salaries like in the last millennium?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

If you stood outside the AT&T Center on June 15th at 9:10 p.m. local time, you would have witnessed a steady stream of crestfallen Miami Heat fans bemoaning the performance of anyone other than Lebron James. Ask any of those fans if they thought Chris Bosh was worth a max contract in the off-season and they most likely would have answered “No!” with feverish enthusiasm.

Fast forward to the off-season, teams have now expressed interest in signing Bosh to a max-contract sheet. As it stands on Thursday, July 8, the Rockets are willing to pay him $22 million a year.

So what does this mean for you? It means that just because your law firm tells you that you’re worth a certain amount of dollars does not mean you can’t secure more greenbacks. Salary negotiations are tricky, and it is helpful to get in touch with a recruiter before you attempt to renegotiate with your current firm. Before you start maneuvering, here are five pointers to consider before strategizing…

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Last month, when we covered BuckleySandler’s midyear bonuses, we included a shout-out to Cahill Gordon. Cahill has paid out generous summer bonuses to its associates dating back to 2010, and we wondered whether the firm would continue the streak.

The answer: yes. Cahill just announced its latest summer bonuses. The timing is good, since rising 2Ls will soon be picking which firms to interview with during on-campus recruiting. (Note Cahill Gordon’s nice rise in the latest Vault 100 rankings, which are widely consulted by law students during the OCI process.)

How big are the Cahill midyear bonuses this time around?

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Complaining about profits per partner as a metric is a favorite pastime of Biglaw partners. Sometimes it can look like sour grapes by partners at firms that don’t excel in the PPP department.

But, to be fair, there certainly are things to complain about when it comes to profits per partner. For example, PPP is an average that can sometimes conceal a great deal of variability. It tells you exactly what its name suggests — average profits per partner, i.e., total profits divided by the number of partners – but it doesn’t tell you what the average partner takes home in a year.

To get a better sense of compensation for an average partner, we’d need to know the “spread,” i.e., the ratio between the compensation of the highest-paid partner and that of the lowest-paid partner. Thankfully, there is (some) information on that.

How do partner compensation spreads look these days at leading law firms?

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Some of our readers are old enough to remember the 1990s. It was, in my opinion, a glorious decade for popular music. (I have a collection of beloved cassette singles from that era.)

But we’re here to talk about the legal profession, not pop music. What were the nineties like for Biglaw?

Also glorious. There was a recession in the early 1990s, but for the most part, times were good. This was especially true near the tail end of the decade, when the booming dot-com economy filled the coffers of many large law firms (before the arrival of the early 2000s recession).

How much of that wealth trickled down to the associates? Let’s find out….

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The current discussion regarding the decision by Dentons not to report its average profits per partner (“PPP”) to the American Lawyer is interesting. While I was at Greenberg Traurig, then-CEO Cesar Alvarez used to have a pithy statement on the whole PPP issue, along the lines of: The only thing partners really care about is “profits per me.” There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. In my experience it is true for existing Biglaw partners, potential laterals, and those (fool?) hardy associates aspiring to partnership.

At the same time, the popularity of the American Lawyer’s various charts and rankings can’t be denied. And PPP is one of the catchier columns on those charts. It is used as a proxy for determining everything from firm prestige, to strength of client relationships, to how well a firm is managed.

Savvy associates can and do use it to determine associate quality of life at a particular firm. Your firm has a blazing PPP and no big contingency windfalls feeding the flames? Good chance you are looking at a never-ending flow of “interesting work,” coupled with the partnership prospects of a diminutive drone buzzing around hoping to get noticed by the queen bee. In contrast, you might enjoy a better lifestyle if employed as associate #614 by a Biglaw 2.0 monolith, but you also run the distinct risk of making partner only to realize that the financial gulf between you and the “real” partners is a broad one….

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