Friday, August 06, 2010

The End of Lockstep?

Lockstep compensation systems may be on the way out, at least at several leading Boston law firms, according to an article in the Boston Globe. "Major law firms have traditionally hired junior lawyers at six-figure salaries and awarded annual increases based on the number of years at the firm, a system known as 'lockstep.'" In the future, however, associates' salaries and bonuses will be based on the partners' assessment of their performance. "Law firms across the country are turning to [performance-based] bonus systems to control spiraling payrolls and satisfy clients who ... have become increasingly unwilling to pay fees of several hundred dollars an hour to cover salaries of inexperienced lawyers." It is hard to speculate about whether a performance-based appraisal system might increase or decrease salaries or whether it would affect the number of associate positions at a firm. Another open question is whether a performance-review process could be administered fairly in the law firm setting. The practice of law is becoming like other fields where steady pay increases are not guaranteed. In addition to the pressure felt to make partner, there will now be additional pressure to earn annual salary increases. Will this be a good thing or a bad thing for the legal profession?


Betsy McKenzie said...

Dear Marie, You beat me to blogging this article. I know many of the librarians at the law firms mentioned in the article, and a number of others in the Boston area. They are being asked by their firms to develop ways to assess research skills of the associates for this very purpose. We are in discussions, groups of firm, corporate and academic librarians, here in Boston, trying to develop standards for research skills and some agreement on assessing programs for teaching them. I don't know if we will succeed or not, but we are working on it.

Victoria Szymczak said...

Like Betsy, NY academics and firms are in similar discussions. It is also interesting to observe how the change in the marketplace changes the role of the law librarian at the firm. Because clients are not willing to pay for associate level research, at least one private librarian has told me his reference staff is working till 10 pm to meet request deadlines. We need to make our law students better researchers so those poor librarians can go home at a reasonable hour!

Betsy McKenzie said...

Victoria, are you guys working on standards in NY?