6/2/11

Elephant Post: Is a Two-Tiered Associate Track the Way of the Future for Law Firms?

photo credit: Travis S.
For this week's Elephant Post, we dive into the core issue of how law firms (mainly BigLaw) are starting to split the Associate ranks into a "Partner Track" and a "Permanent Associate" track. Many of us have heard Associates talk about something like this for years… where they want a challenging work life, but they don't want to necessarily be on a Partner track and wind up with ulcers by the time they are 40. At least some of the big firms seem to be dipping a toe into that water and setting up a non-partner track Associate tier and paying them less than half of their Partner track peers. The trade off seems to be less stress, less hours, but they still end up with highly complex legal work and find the job to be challenging, but not overwhelming.

You don't have to be an economist to understand that there is a glut of quality lawyers on the market right now, and many of the top jobs that where there when these lawyers were in law school, are simply not there any longer. Should the law firms take advantage of this glut and hire 2 1/2 quality lawyers for what they were previously paying for 1 top lawyer? Well, that's what we asked for this week.

For next week's Elephant Post, we're going to jump back in on the administrative side of the law firm ledger (kind of) and talk about a subject that Jeff Brandt brought up about the issue of Practice Management. Is there such a thing as "Law Practice Management" or is it simply just "Practice Management" in a law firm setting? Scroll on down below this week's perspectives and share with us your thoughts on LPM… or is it just PM?



NJ lawyer
Government Lawyer

Done deal. This sounds like an expanded, repackaged, and better publicized reiteration of the big firms' positions of "counsel" or "staff attorney," which have been around for years.


Toby Brown
AFA
Yes.  Or - only if a law firm wants to remain profitable.  I never understood why firms hire every new lawyer with the intention they will become partners when only a fraction of them do.  It makes more sense to hire some as "staff" lawyers or whatever you want to call them, with that intention up front.  Then you train and reward them in a more appropriate fashion and frankly, you are being more honest with them.

Some firms already have staff lawyers or some variation, but these are people who have fallen off the partner track.  Why ever put them on it?  Too many of these people fall off into other firms.  So after getting them profitable, they leave.  Why set yourself up for that?

Smart firms will look at this idea and any others that allow them to provide good services and competitive prices.


Lihsa
Internet Marketing Manager
Absolutely.

These types of tracks are great for establishing alternative careers for lawyers in the legal industry.

As a lawyer-turned-legal marketer, I can attest to value of this kind of legitimized track.

However, there will always be that hierarchical attitude between the lawyers on the front lines and those that aren't.

But if a lawyers' ego can stand it, it is a viable business solution for law firms to ensure that they have quality work from someone who knows how to act, talk and think like a lawyer.

But, hey, I think I just made the case for why NOT to do this.  ;)


Ayelette Robinson
Knowledge Management

I completely agree with Toby here. A non-partner track is a win-win for the law firm and the attorney who fits that role.

However, I think a key question is whether the third point in the triangle - the client - will buy it (literally and figuratively), or will they perceive non-partner-track attorneys as providing lower quality work. We, and many clients, may know that not to be true, but I suspect the alternative title could influence some clients' choices.


Next Week's Elephant Post:
Is It Legal Project Management or Just Project Management Within a Law Firm?
Toby Brown talked earlier this week about there being "More Progress on the LPM Front" (LPM = Law Project Management), and on the same very day, our good friend, Jeff Brandt, wrote an article claiming "There is not such thing as 'legal project management.'" Jeff pointed out that placing "Legal" or "Law" in front of business processes like "Project Management" is essentially the same type of hocus-pocus that you saw on the old Batman television show where everything had "Bat" as a prefix, thus made is somehow more special than its original name.

What's your take on this? Is LPM actually the same as PM or is there fundamental difference in how Project Management works in say a Hospital or a factory versus how it works in a law firm? As someone that conducts Competitive Intelligence (CI) within a law firm – notice we don't call it Law Competitive Intelligence or LCI – I will say that when I talk CI to someone that works at a Fortune 500 company, their response is usually, "That's not real CI." I wonder if those conducting PM in law firms get that same response from their Fortune 500 peers as well??

As always, we try to make it easy for you to contribute your perspective by embedding the form on the page, but you can also:


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