Since the economic downturn began the assumptions that are at the foundations of Big Law have become increasingly unsteady, even irrelevant. Readers of this blog may recall an earlier post about how new associates were being diverted to possible alternative career paths within the Big Law framework. Other posts about how the legal profession has been coping with the new economic reality are here, and here. An even earlier post here specifically discusses the hiring situation.
Now the New York Times has published an article that predicts what can only be termed a paradigm shift for Big Law. The March 31st article by Dan Slater is titled At Law Firms, Reconsidering the Model for Associates' Pay. It is well worth reading for any student hoping to get a high-paying job in a Big Law firm. Slater makes several salient points -
- Incoming associates are being overpaid for the value they add to the firm.
- Most of the work now being handled by incoming associates can be more economically assigned to contract attorneys or even paralegals.
- The billing model for associates' work is no longer sustainable; clients will no longer pay to have associates handle clerical tasks or to learn on the job.
- The entire field is in turmoil. As reality sinks in some firms are making fundamental changes, others are using an ad hoc approach. Incoming associates will have to make hard choices about which firm they go to and which employment model they are willing to accept.
But all is not lost. Slater points out that just because there will be changes doesn't mean there won't be high paying jobs. There will just be fewer of them and associates will actually have to prove their worth to earn their pay.