Money doesn’t talk in the US

There is a minor theme in this issue of The Lawyer, and it follows on from last week’s stories on the A&O new bonus and career structure.

In our main feature this week, we detail the hitherto unrevealed bonus structures of all the top 10 firms in the City. And in our news section you will also find the pupillage awards for the top 30 barristers’ chambers in England and Wales. It’s essential reading: barristers and solicitors alike should be able to benchmark their salary expectations.

The response from the top 10 City firms in particular shows that they engage in debate. The battle for talent affects everyone in the City; there’s no use pretending otherwise.

Unless you’re in a US firm, that is. We approached numerous US firms to ask for similar information. After all, they routinely sell themselves as bountiful employers and the top 10 UK practices are their hunting ground. Here are some responses.

Skadden said: “We don’t discuss this kind of thing.”

Cleary said: “[We’re] unable to find anyone who can speak with you.”

White & Case said: “The policy is not to release any information.”

Latham & Watkins said: “[We’re] happy to discuss most things, but not this.”

Of course, most US firms are generous to their associates when it comes to basic pay; newly qualified solicitors can earn from £63,000 to £85,000. But when it comes to bonuses and, more importantly, career structure, the silence is astonishing. It’s also worth noting that plenty of partners at US firms in London are more than happy to slate Allen & Overy‘s attempts to realign its pay structure. This is pretty distasteful when their own firms won’t come clean.

Headhunters say the same thing. US firms use recruiters as their advance guard, but routinely give them minimal information. “It’s always about the deals they’ve done, not about the softer things such as career structure,” says one recruiter, echoing his colleagues. “They’re obsessed with the M&A tables.”

It does the US firms as a community no favours if they don’t engage on the one issue dominating the City. UK firms have given up trying to best transatlantic pay rates. For them, focus has moved on to career development, reward and, crucially, communication.

Pay and bonus structures should reflect organisational values. On the showing of the US firms, transparency isn’t one of them.