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'I'm a CC associate, get me out of here' ran The Lawyer's front-page headline in late October, promp-ting a slew of coverage of that leaked memo.
The Evening Standard got so worked up about paddinggate, as it has since been dubbed, that it devoted a double-page spread to the affair with the headline: 'Scandal that could break the world's biggest law firm'.
Now that may be stretching the point somewhat, but the memo is certainly illustrative of the potential perils of working in an international law firm. It was compiled by Clifford Chance's New York associates after the firm was ranked last in an associate satisfaction survey in The American Lawyer. The central concern, and the reason for the media interest, was the 2,420 billable hours requirement, which it was alleged could encourage 'padding' of bills, although it did not say padding actually took place.
The six other main areas of the associates' discontent are:
The assignment system: "The firm feels 'like a fiefdom' or a loose confederation of independent states. One cannot take an assignment that does not benefit the feudal lord of his department." Reviews: "The associates believe the firm has zero interest in reviewing their performance."
Poor communications: "Associates pointed to the fact that they do not know what career options besides equity partner exists at the firm if any." Pro bono: "A large percentage of associates believe the current firm animosity to pro bono is deplorable and violates the ethical principles of our profession." Partner indifference: "Being yelled at and told 'we own you' was a winning moment."
Insufficient training: "Absent partners cannot provide informal training."
The firm has established a special taskforce to tackle the problem. However, it remains unclear what its approach to some of the associates' more unusual requests to make CC a better place to work - such as free shoe shines, an online food delivery system, free fruit and bottled water in the pantries, and free corporate accessories - will be. An associate representative on the firm's personnel committee said: "Well, we had to make sure we represented everything the associates had said. Anyway, I polish my shoes every night. It's therapeutic."