There are a huge number of talented lawyers who would happily work 3/4 time for 3/4 pay. You would think that by now, some major firm would have figured out how to capitalize on this reality. Instead, we see large firms in all the of the major legal markets rushing to match their competitors in the latest salary wars. There is no significant movement at large firms to address the work/life concerns of lawyers who want to do great work but maintain a life outside of work.
But what about Thelen Reid in California? They’ve just announced a 2 tiered pay scale which raises starting salaries to $160K for associates willing to commit to 2000 billables but leaves starting salaries at 145K for associates who prefer to bill less.
This sounds like a creative approach and I’m sure some of the partners who proposed this were sincere in their belief that the firm can support different levels of contribution. But given the general track record of law firms on these issues, I think it is a risky career strategy to choose the second tier pay.
if I volunteered for the lower pay scale, I wouldn’t necessarily expect to advance to partnership. Along with the policy, Thelan needs to show some success stories that demonstrate that they are truly committed to the multi-tiered approach. If associates who choose “plan B” can still advance to partnership and have influence at the firm, then it makes career sense to consider “plan B” as a viable long-term career option. Otherwise, an associate choosing this option is only speeding up his or her ultimate departure from the firm. Perhaps this a tad cynical; but it comes down to the old adage that “actions speak louder than words.”