Law Firms

Associate Laterals Face Class-Year Demotions and Pay Cuts

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When David Yelin sought to hire a lateral associate at Duane Morris’ Chicago office earlier this year, he knew to expect a flood of resumés from lawyers desperate for work. What he hadn’t counted on was the lack of experience of many associates compared to their peers from three to five years ago.

“We’d love to bring you over, but we’d have trouble giving you credit for this past year,” Chicago managing partner Yelin says he told a lateral hire.

Despite a rank and compensation step-back, the associate, eager to return to corporate practice after treading water in his firm’s litigation department, accepted the job.

Many corporate, real estate and other transactional associates have shifted to busier practice groups or done pro bono work as they wait for deals to flow. While some experience is better than none, more lateral job-seekers can expect a hefty pay cuts and class-year demotions for the chance to return to their desired practice areas, according to industry experts.

“Initiative is good, but it doesn’t build the skills needed to practice corporate law,” Yelin says.

The dearth of experienced associates is even more reason for firms to abandon traditional lockstep class distinctions and evaluate junior lawyers on actual experience and legal skills, according to legal recruiter Amy McCormack.

“It’s amazing how much work income partners and senior associates held onto,” says McCormack, co-president of McCormack Schreiber Legal Search. “Many junior associates were relegated to tasks like reviewing articles for business development and client favors more than traditional legal work.”

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