Lawyer Pay

Merit, Not Lockstep, Pay at Jones Day

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Despite the attention paid in recent months to Howrey’s announcement that it would no longer implement a so-called lockstep pay schedule for associate attorneys, merit-based salary schedules are by no means unprecedented at major firms.

Jones Day has had such a salary system for associates for decades, paying young attorneys based on their individual performance rather than based on their law school graduation class year, reports New York Lawyer (reg. req.), in a reprint of a Recorder article.

“We’ve always been a one-guy-at-a-time, merit-based firm,” says Joe Sims, a 20-year litigator at the 2,200-attorney Cleveland-based partnership. “It was this way when I joined and as far back as anyone here can remember.”

And, as the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section points out, Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin not only decided to eliminate lockstep in 2001 but the 330-lawyer Kansas City, Mo.-based firm wrote a book about how they did it.

The 600-plus-lawyer Howrey firm, which has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., announced in June that it was eliminating lockstep compensation for associates, as the Recorder reported in an earlier article.

Although some critiqued Howrey’s announcement, blogger Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith, Esq. said at the time that it makes sense. “This is one of the more meaningful attempts to tie cost of service to value to client,” he wrote. “The more skilled the associate (at level X), the more you pay—and the more the associate is actually capable of doing.”

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