Life outside of lockstep is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. A lockstep system for compensating and promoting associates has its drawbacks, to be sure. But at least it offers the virtues of transparency and predictability.
Earlier this week, we covered the arguably amorphous definition of “merit” at WilmerHale, one of several leading law firms to abandon lockstep. Today we turn our attention to Winston & Strawn, another prominent firm that has moved to a more “merit-based” system of compensation.
Back in February, we described Winston’s compensation scheme not as a box of chocolates — that would be sweet and delicious! — but as a black box. Among associates, nobody really knows what anyone else is making. As stated in the firm memo, “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.”
We now have a better sense of what’s going on at Winston, thanks to the recent release of individualized salary info (and some comparing of notes among Winston associates). And not everyone is happy….
‘Think,’ one of the pieces on display at Agora Gallery.
This past weekend, two of your ATL editors paid a visit to Agora Gallery in Chelsea. We wanted to see for ourselves the LEGO brick sculptures of Nathan Sawaya, the lawyer turned LEGO artist.
As explained in our profile of Sawaya, the NYU Law grad left Winston & Strawn for a $30,000-a-year job as a builder at LEGOLAND. Several years later, Sawaya is now a world-renowned LEGO artist, whose works sell for thousands of dollars.
So, what did we get to set our eyes on? And how did we like it?
Nathan Sawaya went to the trouble of getting a law degree, but now he’s making a living with a skill he mastered in kindergarten.
Instead of building cases these days, Sawaya is building large-scale sculptures out of LEGOs. He’s been a LEGO fanatic since he got his first set at 5 years old. He told Image Magazine that while at NYU Law, rather than using his law school desk for studying, he used it for building a LEGO replica of Greenwich Village.
Despite spending his law school days playing with blocks, he managed to score an offer from Winston & Strawn.
Six years ago, though, he won a contest at Toys R’ Us and left the firm to take a $30,000 job as a builder at LEGOland. That batsh*t crazy decision has actually turned out well for Sawaya, 36, if you consider being a world-renowned LEGO artist to be a good thing.
New Yorkers can now check out his work at Agora Gallery in Chelsea. “Brick by Brick: The Lego Brick Sculpture of Nathan Sawaya” opens today.
What might you see beyond a man-size Blackberry (with a built-in flat screen TV)? Here are some examples of Sawaya’s “art”:
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.
To add major insult to injury — especially after Sidley Austin’s announcement [of a raise] this afternoon — the Managing Partner of Winston just accidentally emailed a memo to ALL ATTORNEYS (including all associates) which he meant to send only to ALL PARTNERS, bragging about FY2010 collections. He talks about how work in process and accounts receivable were the same on Jan. 31, 2009 as they were on Jan. 31, 2010, how they accomplished a revenue increase without reducing overall assets, and how work in process added in January 2010 exceeded budget.
A moment later, he tried to recall the message with that Outlook “recall” function that doesn’t really work. Amazing.
Ah yes, Microsoft Outlook’s useless “recall” feature — which just draws attention to the gaffe. If it doesn’t work for federal judges or for DLA Piper partners, why should it work for Winston?
(Misaddressing an email is like passing gas, or making an unwanted advance towards a colleague. Sometimes it’s best to just pretend it didn’t happen.)
Check out the Winston & Strawn memo — intended for “all partners,” but now going out to all the world — after the jump.
Another salary shoe has fallen in Chicago. Winston & Strawn froze salaries last year, and they are doing it again this year. A tipster reports:
Chicago received salary memos yesterday; DC just received salary memos today – All are individualized with no general pay scale included – just the recipient’s salary information.
Based on conversations with numerous associates in both offices – those who did not make hours (1950), those who did, and those who exceeded, all salaries remained the same (frozen at 2008 rates).
Well, at least that’s consistent.
A few details from the memos after the jump.
The signals seem mixed in terms of whether the legal profession is on the road to recovery. On the one hand, the pace of layoffs is certainly slowing. On the other hand, firms are taking other steps to keep headcount (and expenses) down. They are not yet in a mode where they need more hands on deck to handle all the work.
One of the popular approaches is deferral extension, i.e., pushing start dates for incoming associates back yet again. A number of firms have gone down this path. To view our prior coverage, click here and scroll down.
The latest firm to take this approach: Winston & Strawn. The firm’s incoming associates were previously scheduled to arrive on January 19, 2010. Now, according to a memo issued yesterday by hiring partner Joseph Torres, class of 2009 associates will be starting on one of three dates: February 1, 2010; June 1, 2010; or October 4, 2010.
Deferral extension details, including the full memo, plus other information about Winston — after the jump.
In our last post about Winston & Strawn, we covered an “all associates” meeting at which the firm admitted conducting layoffs, but refused to divulge information about their scope. The firm said something along these lines: “Out of respect for the individuals involved, we won’t publicly disclose either future layoffs or past layoff numbers.”
Several commenters questioned that rationale. See, e.g., here:
WTF does that mean?! Are they dead [so] that W&S doesn’t want to speak (ill) of them?
I think I’ll try injecting that into my daily life. “Out of respect for the individuals involved, I won’t publicly disclose either future sexual affairs or past mistress numbers.” I like that… think it’ll work?
Commenters also requested estimates of the size of Winston’s layoffs.
We don’t have hard data ourselves. But we estimate — conservatively, we think — that Winston & Strawn has laid off at least 15 percent of its lawyers in 2009 to date.
So, how did we reach this number?
It’s time for a quick follow-up on yesterday’s “all associates” meeting at Winston & Strawn. Alas, it was a bit anticlimactic. “Just a way for the firm to ruin everyone’s weekend,” quipped a tipster.
According to our sources at the firm, this is what associates were told:
1. Compensation at Winston will remain competitive; no salary cut will be imposed at this time. (The firm froze salaries earlier this year.)
2. Layoffs were necessary, and they have been conducted, but hopefully they’re a thing in the past (although nothing is guaranteed on this score).
So, exactly how many people have been laid off by Winston?
On Monday there will be an “all associates” meeting at Winston & Strawn.
Any guesses as to what it might be about? Bonuses for this year? A move away from lockstep? Candid acknowledgement of recent stealth layoffs? Feel free to offer us your guesses, by email or in the comments. UPDATE (10/12/09): We are gathering reports and will post about the meeting later (probably tomorrow morning). Based on preliminary reports, it was not a particularly exciting meeting, basically along the lines of a “state of the firm” talk.
If you would like to contribute information, please email us: tips at abovethelaw dot com (subject line: “Winston and Strawn”). Thanks.
Full memo after the jump.
A college graduate without student loan debt is akin to reading a kind quote about Kim Kardashian in a tabloid—it’s rare.
In the past eight years, student loan debt has nearly tripled to a whopping $1.1 trillion, and in the past 10 years, the percentage of 25-year-olds with such debt has risen from 25% to 43%
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that New York Fed economists warned last month that the burden of student debt could stilt consumer spending by twentysomethings, as well as further hamper the recovery of the housing market and economy.
To get a better idea of what massive student loan debt (we’re talking over $100,000 massive) looks like, we talked to an attorney who graduated with a large student loan debt. We also consulted LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Katie Brewer to see just how their repayment plans stack up.
S. Fischer, 36, Attorney Graduated: 2001
How Much I Borrowed: $100,000
What I Still Owe: $45,000
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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: email@example.com.
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.
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