As part of its special section on the future of BigLaw, the New York Times examined the culture at firms that have held on to a pure lockstep compensation structure-for both partners and associates. According to the managing partners at Cravath, Cleary and Debevoise, the lockstep system-in which attorneys are paid solely according to their seniority instead of according to merit-based criteria-fosters a culture of transparency, collegiality and teamwork.
This summer, Vault released its annual Quality of Life rankings, including a ranking of the firms with the best culture-as voted by firms' own associates. We wondered-how many of these top 25 firms have lockstep compensation?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that only five of the 25 firms ranked as having the best culture have pure lockstep compensation (some other firms have a lockstep/merit hybrid model): Williams & Connolly, Debevoise, Patterson Belknap, Cleary Gottlieb and Davis Polk.
So what do associates at these firms have to say about how the compensation system affects their firm's culture?
So if taking competition out of the equation fosters a collegial culture, how do the remaining top twenty firms for culture keep things positive? It looks like a commitment to transparency, compensation metrics that aren't solely hours-based, an absence of strict hierarchy and a focus on team-building events all go a long way.
So what does this mean for you? As you research and interview with law firms, you should certainly inform yourself about potential employers' compensation systems. But don't assume that a lockstep structure is a prerequisite to a collegial culture: dig deeper into the initiatives firms offer to foster a positive work environment.
Rachel Marx is Vault's law editor. She covers legal news and trends relating to top law firms, law schools, and the general legal industry. Rachel holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA from Tufts University. She previously worked as a litigation associate at a large New York law firm.
Vault.com is the source of employer and education ratings, rankings and insight for highly credentialed, in-demand candidates. Vault's editorial mission is to empower candidates with unbiased research needed to evaluate the professions, industries and companies they aspire to join.
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