Law Practice

McDermott's Assoc. Tiers Twist: The B Team

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Another major law firm is planning to institute a two-tiered system for associate attorneys. But it is taking a different approach from what some other avant-garde law shops are doing.

Instead of giving current partnership-track associates a choice between working more hours for more pay or taking a kinder, gentler approach to law practice at the same highly skilled performance level, McDermott, Will & Emery is planning to create a second team of lower-paid, non-partnership-track associates. They will help handle work such as the deluge of discovery created by modern-day e-mail, reports the Recorder.

The new second team of associate alternates will be perform less-challenging tasks that will be charged at a lower billable rate by the 1,000-attorney firm, the legal newspaper explains. Thus, they will fill a gap between what are, today, relatively standard-option outsourcing and short-term contract attorney arrangements made by many law firms to complete lower-grade legal work and the traditional system of hiring as associates young attorneys who are viewed as qualified eventually to become partners.

Initially, McDermott plans to hire a group of about 15 associate alternates with “good pedigrees” and big-firm experience. The newbies will work roughly 30 to 40 hours weekly, probably can expect to be rotated to different locations without a fixed office and will be paid perhaps 25 percent less than the firm’s regular associates. (McDermott now starts first-years at an annual salary of $160,000.)

“They’ll have a status within our structure that’s brand-new,” says Robert Mallory, a Los Angeles partner in the firm’s trial group, noting that the idea is so new that no one knows yet what the lawyers in the second team will be called. “The idea isn’t that this will be a training ground. This isn’t a path into the firm.”

As discussed in an earlier post, Chapman and Cutler and Perkins Coie already have two tiers of associates. However, these firms say they have done so to offer existing partnership-track associates a chance to do the same kind of work at a more relaxed pace, if they wish, at a reduced salary.

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