Category Archives: Salary and Employment Trends

Does Making the Grade = Making Partner?

Often, students who lack stellar academic credentials question their ability to succeed in a traditional, competitive law firm environment.  Recent research has shown, however, that success in law firms is not always correlated with your academic pedigree.  As Indiana University Professor Bill Henderson has noted, “in this more competitive environment, [students] need to be personable, collaborative, entrepreneurial, service oriented, and interested in contributing to the collective welfare of the law firm.”  What does this mean for today’s students?  If your academic credentials aren’t dazzling, focus on distinguishing yourself in other ways.  Demonstrate your understanding of the law firm business model, your business development skills, and the intensity of your commitment.  For one-on-one coaching with a career counselor to learn more about the business of law firms and how to distinguish yourself as a candidate, schedule a counseling session with Career Services.

“Law Prof Predicts a ‘New Hierarchy’ of Law Schools,” ABA Journal, November 15, 2010.

How Many Hours Do Associates at Law Firms Work?

Students often wonder how many hours they will be expected to work or bill for a law firm.  According to the 2011-2012 NALP Directory of Legal  Employers, for firms with 50 or fewer lawyers, the most recent average number of hours billed was 1,761.  The average number of hours worked, including both billable and non-billable tasks, was 1,912.  Of course, these are only averages, and every law firm with have its own culture or pace.  To assess work load and billable hours, consider speaking with current associates at the firm to explore what type of work-life balance they have.

Non-Partner Track Associates: Are They an Option for You?

In light of the changing legal landscape, many firms are changing their attitudes about traditional partnership models.  They are more open to hiring associates on the non-partner track.  Non-partner positions are increasingly attractive to firms who are under pressure from their clients to reduce their billing rates.  They are a good option for associates because it allows them to obtain meaningful legal experience with a reputable firm and creates more positions in an already tight legal economy.  Some non-partner attorneys might choose to remain in such a position long term, while others might use it as a springboard for securing employment with other firms.  If you find a firm hiring for the non-partnership track, don’t just pass it over.  Consider whether it might be the right fit for you and discuss it with your Career Counselor.

Neogitating A Job Offer

Follow these tips to negotiate effectively…

1.  Be prepared.  Research the market to determine what you’re worth.  Investigate salary ranges on the internet, with your career services counselor, and with legal search firms.  Ask experienced friends who are already in the market what they think is a reasonable range. 

2.  Set you bottom line and your top goal.  Factor in not just the flat salary, but the vacation, moving bonus, health benefits, retirement benefits, and other intangible factors to get a sense of the full picture.

3.  Practice your negotiation skills in everyday purchases or discussions.

4.  Enter the negotiation with a positive attitude and engage in a respectful dialogue.

5.  Let the employer make the first offer.  And don’t be afraid of silence during the negotiations.  Feeling compelled to rush in to qualify yourself can lead to impromptu and ill prepared speeches.

Preparing for Successful Salary Negotations

Salary negotiations can be uncomfortable not only for law students or alumni, but for the hiring attorneys, as well.  We all feel a little awkward talking about money, but let’s face it . . . that’s the whole reason law firms exist.  So recognize from the outset that this is a business and that negotiations for salary or other aspects of your job are important.

Students often ask whether it is permissible to make a counter-offer.  There are no hard and fast rules about such negotiations.  You simply need to get a good feel for what the other party is receptive to and determine how to proceed.  If you sense that making a counter-offer will alienate you from the attorneys that you will be practicing with because they will think you are overly focused on monetary compensation, you might elect not to counter.  Or you might decide not to ask for a higher starting salary, but rather, for additional vacation time, a moving or acceptance bonus, payment of bar prep fees, or other expenses.  If your intuition tells you that the firm would be receptive to a counter, then proceed accordingly, but don’t get greedy.  Focus on the long term goal of becoming partner, which leads to significantly more compensation than the small raise you are maneuvering for.

A Law Student’s Guide to Hiring Negotiations

It can be such a thrill to receive an offer for a summer clerkship or a permanent associate’s position.  How would you respond to the offer?  What questions would you ask?  Below are a few tips to guide you in your hiring discussion and negotiations.  Remember that these are general rules and that there are always exceptions for individual circumstances. 

1.  Convey how pleased you are to receive the offer, but rather than accepting on the spot, you should kindly let the employer know that you would like a little time to consider the offer and establish a time frame for when you will get back with them.  For example, you might ask if you can let them know within a week.  This allows you to think through the decision, talk it over with friends or family, or even to consult with one of our Career Counselors.

2.  Have a list of questions prepared if there is information critical to your decision.  For example, would you be assigned to work with a particular partner or team in the firm?  What would be your billable goal for the year?  Not every firm gives associates such a goal, but if they do, it would be helpful to know up front what will be expected of you.  What is the partnership track?  Are partners admitted as equity or non-equity? 

3.  In terms of finances, the firm should make a concrete offer for a specific amount.  In the current economy, it usually is not negotiable, although if you have an offer from another firm, sometimes you can play off of that.  But in doing so, you run the risk of alienating the people with whom you may be working for the rest of your life, so tread lightly.  Firms can get a bad taste in their mouth for an associate who seems overly focused on money.  I highly recommend that you confer with a Career Counselor if you plan to make a counter-offer or to negotiate for a higher salary.  Some firms will pay for bar study/prep fees or for moving expenses, although it is becoming less common in the current market.  Nonetheless, if the firm does not offer either of those, it is acceptable to inquire as to whether either is available.  Firms are often more willing to pay small bonuses of that nature rather than establishing a precedent for a higher starting associate salary.

4.  Think about the long haul.  It is easy to focus on the starting salary, but it is even more important to think about your earning potential in the future as a senior associate, and particularly as a partner.  What do you know about the firm and its compensation structure for partners?  Are there various tiers for partners, such as equity and non-equity?  How stable is the firm’s client base and earning potential?

5.  Thank the firm for its offer and for the invitation to join their firm.  Good, old-fashioned manners never go out of style.

Know Your Market: The Supply and Demand Factor

What does economics have to to do with finding a legal job?  Everything!  In determining where you want to practice, perhaps the most important factors are supply and demand.  Does the local legal market need another attorney?  Are any firms in the area hiring?  If so, in what practice areas?  Is there saturation or have there been recent legal layoffs?  How is the local economy faring in general?  These are all important factors you must consider before you commit to any legal market.  And according to a study by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., nearly every jurisdiction except for Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Washington, D.C. has an oversupply of lawyers right now.  What does this mean for you?  It means that to find a legal job in an area that does not have great demand for attorneys, you will probably need to work harder, it will take longer, and your starting salary may be less.  It also means that more than ever, you need to work one-on-one with a career counselor from your first year forward to ensure that you are ahead of the pack in your job search efforts.  Contact Career Services for a counseling appointment in our office or via phone.

Why Small Firms Rule!

Research recently reported by NALP indicates that aggregate starting private practice salaries fell an astonishing 20% for the 2010 class.  “This downward shift in starting salaries is not, for the most part, because individual legal employers were paying new graduates less than they paid them in the past,” NALP Executive Director James Leipold explained in a recent press release.  Rather, he attribures the fall to the fact that graduates found fewer jobs with large, high-paying law firms and many more found jobs with the smallest law firms.  Based on this statistic, you would be better served to focus your job search efforts on small firms with 1 to 10 lawyers rather than medium to large firms since small firms are the ones hiring.  Moreover, although they generally pay less than larger firms, small firms sometimes offer a better work-life balance.  If you are determined to ultimately work in a large firm environment, you can start in a small firm, gain critical experience and develop a reputation for expertise in your practice area, which will make you marketable as a lateral hire for a large firm.

Slight Majority of 2010 Law School Graduates Employed At Law Firms

Each year, salary and employment trends of recent law graduates are analyzed in Jobs & JDs:  Employment and Salaries of New Law Graduates.  Through NALP, we recently received a peek at the 2010 statistics, which reveal that a slight majority of employed graduates obtained their first job at a law firm.  Also, jobs in small firms outnumbered those in firms of more than 100 lawyers for the first time since 1997.  In addition, the percentage of law students hanging their own shingle for a solo practice increased.   What does this information mean for you?  It continues to be a very competitive market, but law firms are still the legal employer of choice for recent graduates.  For the best result, focus your efforts on small firms.  Schedule an individual appointment with a Career Services Counselor to review your application materials and to plan your job search strategy to maximize your marketability.  

The full report of Jobs & JDs will be available in August, and we will have a copy in our office.  So stop by in the Fall to learn more detailed information on the types of employment and salaries obtained by law school graduates in 2010, including the following:

  • what types of jobs graduates found and where they found them;
  • what members of the Class were earning;
  • how earnings varied with geographic location and job type;
  • what sizes of law firms employed the most graduates;
  • which states offered the most job opportunities; and
  • how women and minorities in the Class fared.

In the meantime, you can read the full text of the Selected Findings released by NALP, which provides a detailed summary of the statistics.

Law Firms Seek Associates With More Business Training

According to a recent “Roundtable on the Future of Lawyer Hiring, Development and Advancement” hosted by NALP, law firms are in broad agreement that they would like to see new lawyers with more exposure to business training.  As explained by Robert E. Williams, Partner and Chief Talent Officer at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP, “[a]ll the lawyers here are familiar with the legal case method, where you read a fact pattern and then think of the applicable law.  In the business case method, you read a fact pattern and then think of what you should do…I think that’s really invigorating to someone who’s been steeped in the legal case method for quite a long time, and it will bring them into closer alignment with the way their clients think.”  (“Finding the New Normal,” NALP Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 6, June 2011)  If you have a business degree or a background in a business related field, emphasize the skills you learned in that regard on your resume and in interviews.  When asked what distinguishes you from other candidates, point out how your practical business experience translates into being a better attorney who understands the practical day-to-day implications of legal conclusions.  Afterall, a law firm is a business!