June 30, 2022

As any Vanderbilt Regulation scholar who has ventured into my workplace, or in recent times logged onto a Zoom with me, can attest, I usually share tales from my very own time in legislation college, clerking, in Biglaw, or within the nonprofit world when dishing out profession recommendation. To paraphrase the good Toby Zeigler, I make the most of private tales if solely as a result of it’s the simplest factor to recollect. A favourite of those excerpts from my very own life offers with a problem that has dominated Above the Regulation in latest months, Biglaw wage will increase.

In Spring 2007, as a 2L at NYU Regulation, I took Prison Process with the late, nice S. Andrew Schaffer. Although it was 15 years in the past, a interval of elapsed time that pains me to put in writing, I can clearly bear in mind sitting two-thirds of the way in which at the back of the category, partially hidden from Schaffer’s view behind what I recall as practically everything of the New York College Regulation Evaluate Govt Board.  Whereas everybody within the class was doing their finest to give attention to the intricacies of the Exclusionary Rule or the purpose at which a cease turns into an arrest, there was one thing else vying for our consideration.  In January 2007, Simpson Thatcher had been the primary to lift first-year affiliate salaries to $160,000 from $145,000. As is the case with any Biglaw wage enhance, the race was then quickly on to see which corporations would match this wage leap and when. From my perch in Schaffer’s class, I can nonetheless bear in mind looking at a sea of laptops, and actually each single one, together with my very own, had a browser open to Above the Regulation. My classmates had been repeatedly refreshing the location to see when the agency they had been both going to work for after commencement or for the upcoming summer season would elevate salaries.

Whereas the know-how has modified — fewer college students have flip telephones, regardless that they’re making a weird re-emergence — a decade and a half later, Above the Regulation continues to be the go-to-source for the newest information in legislation agency salaries, a subject that has as soon as once more captured the eye of legislation college students and legal professionals alike in 2022.  Between corporations elevating salaries, solely to be met by different corporations re-raising, and nonetheless different corporations going excessive, it’s as if an especially aggressive recreation of no-limit Texas Maintain ‘Em has damaged out.

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In reality, the one factor hotter than legislation agency salaries over the previous month has been Kansas’s Remy Martin.

As a basic matter, I feel this important enhance in legislation agency salaries is welcome information. As my twice-daily emails from The American Lawyer have, in latest weeks, been crammed with story after story highlighting the document earnings at corporations up and down the Am Regulation 100, nobody can argue with a straight face that these raises are a monetary pressure for Biglaw. And whether or not it’s my political ideology coming to the fore or that I missed my true calling as a labor lawyer, I all the time prefer to see staff extract extra worth from administration. That is the case even when the employees are already properly compensated, see, e.g., the latest baseball lockout wherein I used to be 100% in favor of the millionaire gamers ceding as little floor as potential to the billionaire homeowners. Within the phrases of the good Twenty first-century thinker, Jalen Rose, “there’s wealthy, after which there’s rich.” The gamers are wealthy whereas the homeowners are rich.

Although I view these wage will increase as welcome information, that doesn’t imply they’re freed from any downsides. Whether or not you might be already in Biglaw, counting your newfound stacks, or a legislation scholar eagerly ready to see when your future agency will name the wage elevate, listed here are some potential pitfalls that would come up.

First, as with all different enterprise, or actually every other endeavor, giant legislation corporations will not be going to provide away one thing, on this case, more cash to their attorneys, for nothing. The glittering workplaces that you just see all through Biglaw weren’t constructed as a result of the corporations willingly parted with  their cash, even when they’re shedding substantial sums as these workplaces sit vacant as a consequence of COVID-19. In alternate for larger pay, legislation corporations are going to anticipate their associates to provide extra. This implies extra billable hours. Whether or not explicitly said to attorneys or made clear by means of some oblique means, the expectation of billing extra to generate extra income for the agency could be very actual. The notoriously lengthy hours that Biglaw associates put in simply acquired a bit longer.

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What about these attorneys who can not enhance their workload? That leads us to the second level, anticipate legislation corporations handing out more cash in salaries to have a shorter leash with underperforming associates. Anybody who has spent even a comparatively quick period of time within the authorized recruiting area is aware of that Biglaw corporations don’t like to fireplace attorneys. It may be a messy course of and information of the termination(s) can usually find yourself within the digital pages of this august publication. In an business the place it may be tough to tell apart between various legislation corporations, a status for letting go of attorneys generally is a actual turnoff for legislation college students, which then makes it tough for corporations to replenish their affiliate ranks with new legislation college graduates. Whereas legislation corporations won’t like having to fireplace attorneys, these wage raises may very properly make it a requirement. It’s one factor for an employer to hold useless weight, within the type of underperforming/underbilling attorneys, when they’re making $50,000, however when the salaries attain practically 1 / 4 of one million {dollars} a yr, the useless weight can really feel extra like an albatross. In years previous, underperforming attorneys in Biglaw would have an opportunity to handle and rectify their sluggish billing tempo or outright errors. At present, that could be a luxurious that’s not deemed reasonably priced.

Lastly, it’s not simply present legal professionals who may really feel unfavorable repercussions from the present elevate frenzy. Biglaw summer season associates won’t make everything of the $215,000 yearly wage over the course of the summer season — although when that first paycheck hits your checking account, it may possibly really feel such as you may get fairly shut — however these latest raises imply their salaries will enhance as properly. For as little worth as a first-year affiliate brings to the agency — that’s not an indictment on a specific first-year affiliate, however quite a recognition that junior associates don’t usually generate earnings for the agency till a few years into their follow — summer season associates deliver even much less. But when legislation corporations are hesitant to fireplace associates, they’re much more hesitant to not lengthen a post-graduation supply to a summer season affiliate. That 100% summer season supply charge is a cherished determine in Biglaw recruiting workplaces across the nation. So how can corporations save a bit as summer season salaries turn out to be dearer? By shrinking the scale of the summer season class.  Whereas such a discount is just not more likely to affect the present board of the NYU Regulation Evaluate, it may possibly have a really actual affect on extra marginal Biglaw candidates. This was seen through the dropoff in Biglaw summer season alternatives for the present 3L class throughout the nation as a consequence of COVID-19. What might need appeared like a one-year blip, may flip into a really actual and chronic sample.

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On a macro degree, I’ll all the time cheer when Biglaw salaries go up. However to as soon as once more paraphrase, this time from probably the best uncredited hook within the historical past of hip-hop, it’s just like the more cash that Biglaw attorneys accrue from the latest spate of raises, the extra issues they might see.


Nicholas Alexiou is the Director of LL.M. and Alumni Advising in addition to the Affiliate Director of Profession Companies at Vanderbilt College Regulation Faculty. He’ll, hopefully, reply to your emails at [email protected]