Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Time For An Adjustment

Practicing law in a big firm is really just a ponzi scheme. All the big firms have more or less established a cartel, with a uniform pay scale tied to the graduation date of the associate. As costs go up every year, firms adjust the billing rates charged for the work of their attorneys. Big firms also incur increased costs for benefits, such as health care, and often pass those increased costs along to the attorneys and staff. Consequently, the profits per equity partner also increase. None of the big firms want to raise the pay scale, because they are greedy and don't want to share their largess.

Most associates start their career fresh out of school, and have no actual work experience, so this system would seem fair to them. Every year, their pay goes up by the amount set forth in the pay scale. They are struggling like salmon swimming upstream against the current, hoping that they don't get thrown out of the river or eaten by a bear. Since their attention is directed away from the scheme, they are not likely to complain. This is why Big Law succeeds in their greedy ways.

However, there are a few associates, like myself, who have worked in the real world outside of this ponzi scheme. People like me clearly see the inequity in the system. The only other folks who see it are the first year associates, who recognize that starting salaries have remained virtually unchanged since before 2000 when the pay scales were last adjusted. However, they are so low on the totem pole that, just getting a job is a reward, so they are reluctant to voice any opposition.

Sure, to you non-lawyers, it sounds like whining when first year associates get a starting salary of $125K. But such is the economic of a profession that is rather difficult to achieve entry, and not the purpose of my debate.

My firm is a follower firm. I must wait until Big Law decides to adjust the pay scales upward. However, my firm is a leader in the profits per partner category. I therefore appeal to all associates working in Big Law to seek out members of their respective partner-associate committees, and ask that the pay scale be adjusted, if not for any of the above reasons, but to keep pace with INFLATION rather than the JONESES (or is it the KENYONS or the FINNEGANS)?