Lawyer Pay

Some Baker Botts Associates Could See Pay Cuts in New Merit-Based Pay System

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Some Baker Botts associates could see pay cuts after year-end reviews under a new merit-based compensation system that takes effect Jan. 1.

Maria Boyce, partner-in-charge of the firm’s Houston office, spoke to Texas Lawyer about the change from a lockstep to a levels format. Associates will first be placed in three tiers—junior, midlevel or senior associate—based on seniority, she said. After annual evaluations in November and December, associates will be placed at the appropriate level based on evaluations rather than seniority. That will affect base pay and bonus opportunities.

“We anticipate that most associates will stay in the same level or move up to the next level effective Jan. 1, 2011,” Boyce told Texas Lawyer.

Base pay for entry-level associates will remain at $160,000. Above the Law reports that base salary levels for the three tiers above first-year associates range from $180,000 to $270,000 in New York and California, and $170,000 to $200,000 in Texas.

“Looking at the raw numbers, it appears that Baker Botts is offering a very competitive salary,” Above the Law reports. “The key question will be whether or not Baker Botts associates move from level to level in a timely manner.”

Law firm spokesman Mike Cinelli tells the ABA Journal that Above the Law’s salary numbers are accurate.

A Baker Botts press release calls the change “the latest enhancement of a multiyear plan to better manage associate development at all experience levels.” In 2008, the law firm defined expectations and core competencies for each of the three levels.

The press release quotes partner Steve Leifer, chair of the firm’s professional development committee. “This levels initiative is responsive to requests from our clients for a clear demonstration that lawyers’ experience and capabilities correlate to their billing rates,” Leifer said. “The change also serves our associate development goals by ensuring that associates build the requisite skills and allowing us to be more consistent in rewarding performance.”

Updated at 9:45 a.m. CST to include comment by Baker Botts spokesman Mike Cinelli.

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