J. Nick Augustine J.D. is the principal of Law Publicist Communications, an ALR/PRA, Inc. agency. Law Publicist Communications is a public relations agency also offering coaching and consulting. Nick advises and assists attorneys in transition in public relations, marketing and practice management. Nick shares recruiting and staffing experience and tips for legal job seekers.
Attorneys in transition should seek higher wages and negotiate compensation packages with greater earning capacity. The economy may be rough, but the artificially decreased average salaries do not measure up to average profit per partner numbers. I have heard so many people say that you can get associates for “next to nothing” and you can pay them law clerk wages and “get away with it” because “what else are they going to do?”
I understand that equity partners felt the bite of the recession; however, taking advantage of associate talent is only going to cause a backlash. A quote from a colleague today read, “…does not understand companies that pay their employees next to nothing and are then surprised that the employees get disenchanted.” Guess what, those disenchanted employees are kissing their low paying associate jobs goodbye and opening their own firms.
Younger and more technologically savvy attorneys seem to be more consumer friendly and don’t carry the stuffy attitudes that gave the legal profession a bad name for years. Kinder and friendlier counsel who embrace technology are retaining more clients these days, while the high-priced and what some would call “stuffy” firms are losing momentum.
Many more firms are structuring compensation packages with base salaries and percentages on collected fees. If the firm is providing billable work and paying you a percentage on billed and collected fees your base salary is likely smaller. Other firms offer a larger cut of the fees billed for clients the associate brings to the firm.
If you are personable and are likely to attract clients to the firm it makes sense that you are compensated for your efforts. If you hang your own shingle you need to find clients, and at some point in your legal career you will need to be the rainmaker. If you have an associate base salary you get to learn the ropes and get experience. If you also have a financial incentive to bring clients to the firm you really have an opportunity to show your abilities, as a lawyer and business professional.
Will your firm worry that you might jump ship after demonstrating client generation skills? No. Meeting client prospects and influencing referral partners is only one piece of a larger management puzzle. The ability to bring in clients and earn referral relationships makes you worthwhile to the firm when the firm itself has the brand equity and credentials necessary to bring in good clients.
Negotiating better compensation requirements requires your acceptance that your value as a lawyer will vary depending on experience and position. Consider and suggest employment with flexible terms and periods of review where you have an option to negotiate the numbers to match the real value of your contributions to a law firm.