An alternate track in biglaw?
July 13, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

I know there are a bunch of lawyers in this community. I wonder if any of you are on "alternate tracks" or "alternative schedules". Or, if you are some other kind of professional who typically bills by the hour, if you can help me come up with a proposal.

I've asked to go on an "alternate schedule" at my large law firm. I have the support of the people who matter - those I work with, management, etc. They've asked me to craft a "creative" proposal for what I'd like. I plan to offer two proposals -- one is a"reduce my billable hour goal by X%, reduce my salary by same percent." The other is.... something else, but I'm not sure what.

What I want is to come to work, work hard for 40 hours a week, and get paid, and then go home. I don't want to feel like a failure because I'm not meeting the "goal" set by the firm. The management is open to listening because there's so much focus lately on "project billing" and "alternate fees". The problem is that no one has been able to figure out how to compensate associates for anything other than their hours.

Any suggestions? If I suggest a straight up salary for forty hours in the office, how to I show that this would be profitable for the firm? I'm having trouble thinking outside the box.

Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Read Million Dollar Consulting by Dr. Alan will help you.

Working by the hour is a conflict of interest form the get-go, because a client wants the case to be over as fast as possible, while the lawyer has a vested interest in dragging it out.

1) per case fee?
2) per week fee? could they give you the "stuff" you'd accomplish in 40 hours, and then you could accomplish it in 25 or in 70 at your own pace?
3) annual salary (low) with high contingency bonuses for a winning case?
posted by Izzmeister at 4:18 PM on July 13, 2010

If you know your salary and your billable hour target, you can work out how much they're paying you an hour.

Multiply that by 40, and then set the other as the per-hour benchmark.

This lets you get a reduced salary for your standard week, whilst also compensating you (within the same framework as they're currently paying you) when you work hours over that. i.e. when they need you to kill yourself to get something done one week, they can.

e.g. - you earn $100,000 per year, and your billable hours target is 100 per week, which is 5,200 hours a year.

That's $19.23 an hour.

You want to work 40 hours a week - that's $40,000 a year.

If you happen to work 60 hours one week, you get an extra $385 for that week for the extra 20 hours you worked.

They're not paying you any more than they currently pay you, you get to work less.

I hope my maths is correct

Another option is flexi-time, whereby you can use your wage to buy time off. It's mostly used for vacation (sacrifice $x to get a week off), which doesn't give you more time off a week, but lets you take larger chunks of time off.
posted by djgh at 4:31 PM on July 13, 2010

An attorney at my firm did the lower percentage thing - I think she dropped to 80% of the typical hours requirement for our department and presumably dropped to 80% of her prior salary and bonus.
posted by amro at 4:39 PM on July 13, 2010

Are there enough small projects in whatever your area of practice is for you to be the "[small project]" person? My thought is that you could try to carve out a niche for yourself as someone who is the expert on filing X document or making X motion or handling a particular sort of regular, straight forward case, so that you will better be able to do your 40 hours per week and then get out. The firm might even considering charges a flat rate for your work in whatever niche that is, instead of you billing by the hour, so that you can further divorce billable hours from what you do.

Otherwise, I agree with the suggestion of using the extra hours to buy time off, or try working 4 days a week (and have that schedule be known and enforced, which is the difficulty!). In my experience there are always going to be weeks where you're needed to bill more than 40 hours a week, but if you're taking a pay cut, maybe you can benefit by having the time off on the slower weeks, or having a 4 day work week.
posted by Caz721 at 5:19 PM on July 13, 2010

I'm not convinced there is something better than a reduced hourly quota and a reduced pay rate. I also think that it is not in your interest to try to pioneer an alternative. It is hard enough for law firms to stay committed to developing the career of part-time lawyers that you don't need to make your "creative" compensation approach yet another barrier to them thinking of you as worthy of the same focus as full-time associates.

Your "creativity" should be about client service and professional growth, not pay: how you are going to drill down on the sort of practice that can thrive in core business hours (nature of deal/case, nature of client), how you are going to assure availability and continuity on the evenings and weekends when it really counts, how you are going to be able to take an active part in professional development, marketing, firm business planning and committees, and pro bono.

(By the way, don't be surprised if your firm asks for a greater percentage cut in your cash compensation than hours are reduced, because the fixed costs associated with your employment are not being reduced: your benefits are not becoming less expensive, they can't park another lawyer in your office from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., they likely won't be able to reduce the support staff ratio, malpractice insurance premium, etc.)
posted by MattD at 6:32 PM on July 13, 2010

I know some people work four months, then take four months off, then work another four. Or some combination.
posted by prefpara at 7:25 PM on July 13, 2010

« Older At least I could kill Clippy   |   is my ipod possessed? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.