Killing Lockstep

Winston Strawn LLP logo Above the Law blog.jpgFriday brought good news and bad news for Winston & Strawn associates.

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.

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Bingham McCutchen new logo Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgMaybe 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.

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Pillsbury logo.JPGIt 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:

Pillsbury salary bonus 2010 1.JPG

Pillsbury salary bonus 2010 2.JPG

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.

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Dickstein Shaprio still basically relevant logo.JPGAdd 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.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Dickstein Shapiro: New Salary Structure Leaves A Lot of Questions”

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