Big rainmakers widen compensation gap

More top partners at Am Law 100 firms are bringing home $10 million a year, while the compensation gap between rainmakers and all others continues to widen as firms seek to cut costs, according to The American Lawyer's latest look at law firm salaries.

The American Lawyer examined law firm salaries using in-house and external data and interviews with legal recruiters, consultants and other experts. Among the key findings:

- The gap between the highest- and lowest-paid equity partners is growing at firms that are boosting rainmakers' compensation.

- More senior-level lawyers are non-equity partners and counsels. As the opportunity to advance increasingly depends on the ability to keep clients and generate new ones, some management experts see the non-equity partner group as being among the most vulnerable in Big Law.

- Associates' base pay at the biggest offices of the biggest firms is about $160,000 and hasn't budged since 2007, amounting to a decrease of 14.5 percent when adjusted for inflation. (This year many associates got big bonuses.)

- More law firms are using salaried staff attorneys and hourly contract lawyers often engaged by third-party agencies, often in back offices in lower-cost cities.

- Law firms increasingly are outsourcing administrative, clerical and technical support jobs to third-party providers and overseas support centers.

The American Lawyer's study points to an equity partner class that is increasingly stratified, with a shrinking top tier that has grown its compensation disproportionately. According to some experts, the danger is many law firms, fixated on short-term profits, are investing heavily in 'stars' at the expense of a longer-term vision of creating a multi-generational firm whose next leaders are in development.

The American Lawyer also released its roundup of the year's most interesting lawsuits. The eight chosen cases saw laws, some of them decades, if not centuries, old applied to fact patterns that never existed when these laws arose.

Published: Thu, Jan 08, 2015

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