There's a post in today's Wall Street Journal Law blog that reads like something out of The Onion. If I sat down, and as an experienced professional, planned out a strategy to completely wreck any future business development hopes for my firm, it would look like this:
Here’s the way it’ll work: All those first and second year associates who, as of June 1, were on pace to bill fewer than 1600 hours for the year will have 20% of what they stand to make over the last half of the year withheld. (In other words, the firm will hang on to 10% of the year’s salary.) For third year associates who fall beneath the threshold, the firm will withhold 15% of the July-December pay (or 7.5% of the full-year salary).
If, at the end of the year, the associates have hit 1600 hours, they’ll have their full pay restored.
Okay. Let me get this straight. First and second year associates have absolutely no chance of ever bringing in business. They just can't. Their job is to learn to be lawyers, and to do the work they're given as well as possible.
Unless they're incredibly lazy, and want their careers to explode on the launching pad in a recession, the number of hours they bill is a direct result of the work they're assigned. Which someone else has to bring in. Like, say, a partner.
Now, the firm has decided to hold them financially responsible for something they have no control over. This is bad, but it's not uncommon -- every time associates take a pay cut, it's because, usually, of the inability of partners to sell enough work to keep them busy, which is something they can't control. Fine.
However -- and this is the really great part -- the firm is creating an incentive structure in which the key metric for new associates is whether or not they're profitable. If they bill enough to make the partners money, they can keep their salaries. If you don't, through no fault of their own, the firm will cut their pay to guarantee that they're profitable. And this is for partners who are already making several hundred thousand dollars a year. One way or another, new associates must make money for the partners. This is the ultimate in short-term thinking. The firm is willing to invest absolutely zero, and has no interest in the future, either. To quote Willy Wonka, they want it now, and they're going to make sure they get it.
In this situation, no associate in his right mind is going to make any effort at all to bring in business, or even learn how. They're going to either look for new jobs, or do whatever it takes to bill their brains out, right now. Just in case they didn't get the message, their employers have spelled it out -- their job is to bill. And that's it. Because the partners want to make money. Right now.
And in three, or five years, when the possibility of becoming a partner begins to become real, these lawyers will have no pipeline, and no book of business, because they've been unable to invest the time or develop the skills to do so. And the firm has done absolutely nothing to help them learn.
If there is more to this story, or if I've missed something, I'd be glad to hear about it. But based on what I've read, this sounds like an excellent way to make it as hard as possible for associates to learn to bring in business.