My blog on Friday on large law firms and their lawyers poked a bit of fun at my brother-in-law in Arizona, who is a partner in a very large firm. I forwarded him the post and got no response. Today, he responded with a comment to my blog which I have converted into a post. Apparently, he had an opinion on the subject. He also proved the point of my original post by using the word “untermenchen” at one point. This is his response:
In response to my brother-in-law, I would agree that associate salaries fresh out of law school have just become plain silly. And I say that not because of the amounts at issue, but because of the incongruity between those amounts and the “new work ethic” of those now entering the profession. It is difficult to look someone in the face who is making $160K a year and seriously consider their views on work/life balance. Not that our profession cannot make work/life balance a reality. It is to say, however, that those entering the workforce seem to think (and I concede this is a gross generalization) that they ought to be able to punch the clock 9-5 and still get those princely sums of money and bonuses. When an associate bills 1600 hours (10% of which is then written off for various reasons) and charges another 200 hours of non-billable time, and then calls it a year, I can safely say we are paying new associates too much.
The great myth orbiting big firms is the notion that their associates work like slaves. Over the last 15 years, I have worked at two of the largest firms in the U.S. You would be shocked to learn that neither firm has succeeded in cajoling, begging, and/or threatening its associates to reach 1700 average associate billable hours across those firms. At my prior firm, the average associate’s billable hours were below 1650 per year. So, the basic truth is, in any large firm, some people work ridiculously hard and ordinarily succeed. Some people work like mere mortals, hit around 1900-2000 hours, make good client contacts or develop their own business, and also succeed. Many, many more, however, jump into the pool for a few quick laps, sit at the pool bar drinking daiquiris while their colleagues lap them, and then whine incessantly about their small bonuses and the sweatshop they loathe. It may surprise you to learn that most large firms lose money (and a lot of it) on associates until they get into their 6th year of practice. Think about that. We make a 6-year investment, which is right around the time associates become marketable as individuals rather than as fungible commodities (no offense intended to newbies). It’s akin to drafting a high school kid, giving the kid a big signing bonus, bringing him up through the minors, and as soon as the kid appears to be ready to hit .300 and stealing 40 bases a year, the kid goes free agent on you. I realize that is not the aptest analogy, but you get the picture. To use your analogy, consider pouring all that money into JaMarcus Russell, but as soon as it is time for him to take his first snap from the center in a meaningful game, he just leaves and your investment was worthless. Enough on associate salaries.