Economic conditions have led to some creative cost saving measures at law firms. One of them, the non-partnership track for new lawyers, means a reduced status and salary for those accept the positions. This second tier of attorneys know from the start they will make less than half the salary of traditional associates, but will do the same or similar work. They also know from the start that they are not on the partnership track.
The New York Times interviewed 29 year old Mark Thompson, who accepted such a position at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. In that interview, Thompson says he is writing briefs, visiting client sites and preparing witnesses for hearings. This is the same type of work traditional associates are doing. Thompson accepted the position when he could not find a position as an associate.
This shift in the traditional law firm business model is saving firms money and potentially preventing some legal work from being done offshore, some might say, at the expense of young lawyers' careers. The benefit to the non-partner attorneys is a more family and lifestyle-friendly position, where they work fewer hours and travel less than their partnership-track counterparts. Orrick is joined by Wilmer Hale and McDermott Will & Emery in this quest to control costs using this type of tiered structure. The economy and push-back from clients has forced firms to look beyond the traditional high-cost lockstep program for associates in order to control escalating hourly rates.
Firms are locating these "permanent associates" or "career associates" in cities like Dayton, Ohio and Wheeling, West Virginia, where the cost of living is lower. Salaries are in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. Although salaries are reduced, some career associates appreciate the lifestyle benefits of not having to hit high billable hour numbers. Some partnership-track associates have switched to permanent associate positions in order to take advantage of the family-friendly nature of the job.
New York Times.com
Dayton Business Journal
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