Orrick ‘revolutionises’ US associate pay ladder

Orrick Herrington & ­Sutcliffe last week jettisoned lockstep remuneration for its US associates, a move described by the firm as “revolutionary”, but greeted by some in the legal market as ­little more than a ­marketing push.

Ralph Baxter

Ralph Baxter

Last Wednesday (30 June) the US firm unveiled its ‘new talent model’, a ­combination of a distancing from the traditional ­lockstep advancement for partner-track associates and the ­creation of a variety of new legal roles. 

“We’re confident that our new model is the way of the future,” says Orrick ­chairman and CEO Ralph Baxter. 

The new model establishes three tracks of lawyers and other professionals and staff: partner-track associates; career attorneys and legal team professionals; and custom track associates. 

Orrick will replace the automatic lockstep advancement model for its partner-track associates with one that it says will allow associates to advance “at a pace that reflects their developing skill set”. 

The firm will also have three levels of associate – associate, managing associate and senior associate – with defined performance criteria for advancement from one level to the next and with corresponding compensation levels. 

“At Orrick we’re working closely with our clients to bring greater innovation and efficiency to the delivery of high-value legal work,” says Baxter. “Bringing the law firm talent model into the 21st century is key to this objective.” 

Not everyone is convinced that Orrick’s new model is as radical as Baxter would like to think.

“Revolutionary is a big word,” says Friedrich Blase of management consultancy KermaPartners. “To my knowledge revolutions are not announced, they’re judged after the fact. Yet even if this one goes ­according to plan it will be a minor one, especially for clients. I expect other firms to go a good deal further.”

According to Blase, the real question will be whether Orrick can spread its model into all the ­corners of its office network.

“If its application is ­limited to a few of the larger offices or some practices then it will fail to live up to its claim,” Blase adds. “That execution needs discipline.

rrick is better positioned to pull that off than most firms, but success is far from certain. Let’s see in 18 months how far the ­revolution has spread.”

Although the new model is only in place for US associates, Orrick is understood to be developing analogous talent model initiatives for Europe and plans to ­implement these in 2010.