Firms warned against ditching associate lockstep

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  • Re SIlver Circle "Big firms just aren't equipped to properly assess merit across practice groups"
    Are you seriously suggesting that these firms do not have the expertise to be able to assess their own staff??
    surely lawyers have to be answerable to someone at an early stage in their career- clients for a start. How does anybody learn without feedback from peers and clients alike? If you just move up the ranks because you're five years PQE rather than based on merit, couldn't that create some serious issues for the profession? In 10 years we could end up with partnerships full of people who are there because they've stuck with their firms- not because of merit.

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  • Wake up and smell the coffee. More work is being outsourced. If it's a non-reserved activity, then anyone can do it. Why would anyone pay an associate 80 grand to be a doc monkey? It's a closed shop and it stinks. Before long all you moaning assistants are going to wake up and realise your work is being done in Bangalore!

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  • The key problem is how to measure the "merits" objectively. How do you want to make an overall comparison between all associates in a firm? Each partner usually works with only a few associates and partners have an incentive to push their own associates because they want them to be motivated.
    Hence, the real question is which partner is best positioned to push through his demands for his associates. The only relevant "merit" of an associate is to be working for a partner who has sufficient standing in the firm. This is how pay, bonuses and titles are distributed without clear, objective and binding rules.
    Of course, "merit-based" sounds fantastic and everybody agrees to the concept. Only that it does not work at all in real life.

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  • What is this all about? It is depressing to see such apparent concern about high levels of earnings within private practice (I presume quite early on) as opposed to gaining experience and earning more as a result and as a real reward for experience (which is the theory behind the so called lock step pay. There has never been lock step anyway - firms have always used their discretion, albeit within bands, and where necessary have departed from them for commercial reasons.It is also just as depressing to see the attitude of on housers - having seen both sides of the law I know very well that, very often, the criticism of in housers by those in private pratice is justified, but equally the in house lawyer performs a valuable and different function. Above all else, what really matters, as has been pointed out, is that a lot of the routine work that many people have done is no longer a sine qua non for law firms, and what we all have to do (see generally Richard Susskind) is to move on to different things if we are to justify ourselves - and remain a worthwhile profession, and not a money churning, paper chasing crowd - which is why my first point is so relevant!

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  • If the total pot for the associates' salary remains the same, it wouldn't be a problem. However, I am 100% sure that the firms introducing the system will reduce the pot!

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  • We are supposedly a profession - a profession considers itself bound to advance able solicitors to ultimate leadership of the firm either as the firm growns and/or as the elder members retire.
    The lockstep and PQE are hallmarks of a professional set up; there is no reason why these systems cannot produce able solicitors that are a credit to the profession - after all, many of those looking to set new standards and schemes got where they were are because of these schemes.
    True: PQE is not a universally applicable service standard (nothing is ever universally perfect) but the fact is that it should be; and if it isn't that is the fault of the mentors not of the disciples.
    Elder lawyers should not be shunted into early retirement as they age - rather they should be revered and exposed to the younger members of the profession as mentors: passing on their skills and experiences.
    Car salesman judge merit by bottom line criteria alone because they aren't a professional body.
    The proposal to depart from the lockstep and PQE is nothing more than a refusal to pay people for their experience, levelling the playing field so that paying someone with 12years PQE the same as someone with 2yrs PQE can be justified.
    Put this another way - would you want your loved one to undergo heart surgery under a surgeon with 2years experience or one with 12? Would you let your wife/girlfriend/lover have breast or womb surgery at the hands of a 2 year qualified surgeon when a 12 years experienced surgeon was available? No!
    Equally, would you expect a surgeon of 12 years experience to be motivated and driven when he/she is being paid the same as a first year surgeon? Would you want that disgruntled surgeon doing your prostate operation? No!
    This is a case of people setting standards for others that they would not want to follow themselves - there is a saying in the Bible that goes something like:
    "Brood of Vipers! You cannot get through the door of the kingdom of heaven yet you bar the way for everyone else"
    The fact is that since equity partners cannot make their businesses profitable by their own efforts they need to find a way to go back on their promises to all those on their way up.
    This isn't a drive for standards - it's a desire to cheat the up and coming out of their professional expectations because it's become too expensive to honour them.
    Here's another gem from The Outlaw Josey Wales that answers the spin doctors here: "Don't p*** down my back and tell me its raining"

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  • In my view this is just another way to get people to work harder, for the same (or possibly less) money. In a lock-step system, an associate who bills 1,700 hours a year get's paid the same (ignoring bonuses) as someone who bills 2,500 hours. Some might say that that is unjust on the person who has billed 2,500. But who is to say that the higher biller deserves more? If he chooses to work extra especially hard, and be an all-round keen-been, then good for him - I'm sure that will be rewarded in an increased liklihood of being made partner in the future. But he could also have chosen (had he wanted to) to work at a pace (e.g. 1,700 per year) which just about keeps his head above water. So yes - partners I am sure will be very happy with moving away from lock-step at associate level, as will some particularly hard-working associates. But not all lawyers want to be desk-monkeys for their entire career. Some, like me, are happy doing a good quality job, keeping clients and partners happy, but at the same time enjoying the occasional weekend or evening free to spend with family/friends etc. For this reason if I was applying for training contracts again, then the firms which offer lock-step pay would be significantly more attractive to me than those that don't.

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  • As an outsider, 'lockstep' seems to me to be a form of communism, and lawyers are being paid on the basis of how long they've managed to keep their jobs.
    I read some very interesting points here, and can't help feeling that there might be a very workable middle-ground.
    With proper planning and performance management wages could be paid both on PQE and merit.
    Performance against KPI's - right ?!?!?

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  • In certain aspects the law profession in England is so old fashioned and it feels that by joining this profession I've gone back in time ...
    This lockstep rubbish (also present in training contract salaries) prevents experienced professionals from coming in from other industries and bringing in a wealth of expertise into the legal profession.
    For example, as an engineer working in telecoms, I've come across solicitors who are unconciously incompetent, whilst the rest of the project team bang their heads against the wall in dispair at the time it's taken to explain something so basic to someone who's firm charges such extortionate fees.
    If a 1 yr PQE with 20 years of previous experience in another profession is able to use this previous experience and contacts to bill more than a 1 yr PQE with no previous work experience .... what's wrong with the salary reflecting the reality of the value the solicitor brings to the business?
    There is a free market in the rest of the country outside the legal profession just in case people hadn't noticed.

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  • I worked at a Silver Circle firm and was astonished at how both at the standard of lawyering and, not unconnectedly, the intellectual abilities of the average associate, and not because they exceeded expectations.

    Even during the boom years I think that by hiring smarter people they firm could have done all the work to a higher standard with a workforce 25-50% smaller. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the partners did not reward me for making this observation. I therefore left for a better firm and have been pleased to find that a career in law can be what I had hoped it would be and not a thankless process of kow-towing to seniors for whom pride in the work product seemed far secondary to getting the cash in.

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