Salaries

Law firm consultants have endless advice about how best to compensate partners at firms. The consultants analyze the extremes: Lockstep compensation avoids quibbles about pay, but it may reward less productive older partners at the expense of the young turks. Eat-what-you-kill compensation rewards people who bring in business, but may cause bitter fights over client origination credit or cause partners to hoard their clients.

Various permutations on those extremes have their own advantages and disadvantages. But riddle me this: Why don’t we see consultants debating the pros and cons of pure black-box compensation? Under this system, the managing partner (or a small committee) sets compensation for each partner in the firm. There is no specific formula for allocating the spoils, and partners are forbidden from discussing their compensation with each other. Each partner is told what he’ll make in the coming year (either as an absolute number or as a projected draw assuming the firm hits 100 percent of budget), and the process is over.

At least a few large firms use black-box compensation systems, so this subject surely deserves a moment’s thought. What do you think of a black-box compensation system — good, bad, or indifferent?

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* I thought Def Leppard got a cut every time a stripper takes off her clothes. [Legal Blog Watch]

* Catherine Rampell tackles the sputtering lawyer salaries numbers. Yes, to the New York Times, you listen. [Economix / New York Times]

* Oh nepotism, the thing that proves that it’s better to be lucky than good. [Wise Law NY]

* It’s kind of funny if your entire document production can be flummoxed by a squirrel. [Wired]

* The New York City Bar association is putting together a task force of people to look at the terrible legal job market. You know who isn’t trying to come up with the a response to the terrible market? It rhymes with American Bulls**ttar Association. [WSJ Law Blog]

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]

Do you know why your parents always encouraged you to be a doctor or a lawyer when you were younger? Because you can still make bank in either field.

Although it seems that we’re constantly painting doom-and-gloom pictures of the imploding legal profession here at Above the Law, we’ve got to admit that for some, law is still a financially-booming career path. In fact, according to data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, being a lawyer still has significant monetary perks. CNBC compiled a list of the 15 highest paying jobs in the country, and despite meager Biglaw bonuses and the Dewey effect, lawyers continue to reign near the top.

Where do lawyers fall on the list? Let’s find out….

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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?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Inside Straight: Kvetching About Comp”

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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Somebody Forgot To Tell Boston College Career Services Officers That BC Law Grads Enjoy A ‘Median’ Starting Salary of $160,000 In Private Practice”

Last week there appeared a column on this site that denigrated clerkships in the middle of the country. I could not decide if the author was attempting satire, but it seemed to be a straight piece. I would like to offer a counterpoint.

I began my career at Biglaw in New York City. The firm began to have troubles, and I saw the writing on the wall as my class dwindled from 40 to 30 to 20. I then heard from a family friend that a federal judge in Oklahoma City was looking for a clerk to assist with some topics with which I was familiar. I scored an interview, we hit it off, and I moved my wife and new baby to OKC for a year.

Full disclosure: I went to 15 schools before graduating high school, and OKC was the place I called “home.” Many decisions about this move were simple: it allowed us to live near family for a year, which was great support for the baby; my wife was working on her dissertation, so she had time to write; and I had a circle of friends from high school with whom I could reconnect.

Further simplifying the issue was that the government payscale is based solely on experience. How much did I earn, as a law firm associate turned law clerk?

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Tomorrow, associates at Goodwin Procter will receive individualized news of their bonuses. You may recall that last month, when ATL’s new director of research, Brian Dalton, compiled a list of Biglaw’s ten most generous firms — i.e., the ten firms that pay the best bonuses, when measured against their profits per partner — Goodwin did good, winning fourth place. (The firm fares well in rankings; last month, it made Crain’s list of best places to work in New York.)

Will this year’s bonuses preserve Goodwin’s good standing? Let’s find out. Although the individual amounts are being communicated tomorrow, the firm has outlined its overall approach in a memo….

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