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Law Firm Roundup: Texas Hirings, Simpson Thacher's Time Sheets; Jones Days's Bonus

Vivia Chen

November 3, 2010

 Texas Legal Market--Not Bad, Not Great

The market for new lawyers in Texas is a bit of a mixed bag: There are generally fewer of them, but the ones who made the cut are starting work sooner. The Texas Lawyer reports that in 2009 Dallas-based Thompson & Knight and Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell "deferred the start dates of their first-year associates for four months, until January 2010. This year both firms invited their new associates to begin their jobs in September."  (Thompson & Knight has 12 first-year associates this year, compared to 16 in last year's class; Locke Lord has 15 new associates this year, compared to 22 last year.)

Of the 26 firms surveyed by Texas Lawyer, six declined to provide information; they are Brown McCarroll; Clark, Thomas & Winters; Gardere Wynne Sewell; Greenberg Traurig; King & Spalding; and Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons.

And of the 20 firms that completed the survey,  reports Texas Lawyer, "seven deferred some or all of this year's new associates until early 2011--Andrews Kurth; Baker & McKenzie; Cox Smith Matthews; Fulbright & Jaworski; K&L Gates; Strasburger & Price; and Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Last year, 12 of the 20 firms postponed some or all of their first-year associates' start dates."

But the bottom line is that the 20 firms reported a 24.9 percent drop in hiring of first-year associates-- 275 this year, compared to 366 last year.

Simpson Thacher's Brutal Time Sheet Policy

Above the Law reports that Simpson Thacher will garnish the wages of lawyers who are late with their time sheets. It posted an internal firm memo dated November 1:

If a lawyer is missing ten business days of diaries prior to any payroll date, the lawyer’s gross salary will be reduced by 20 percent prospectively for the next pay period. The reduced salary will continue in effect until diaries are no longer ten business days in arrears by a payroll date. Restoration to the prior salary will occur in the pay period following the pay period in which the lawyer’s time records are once again current, and retroactive restoration will only be made in exceptional and rare cases, such as in some situations of personal or family illness or emergencies, with such reimbursement to be approved in writing by a cochair of the Personnel Committee.

Whoa--read that again: "retroactive restoration will only be made in exceptional and rare cases." That means that the 20 percent deduction is likely permanent!

My questions: Why is this memo not addressed to partners? From what I know, partners can be just as delinquent. And what if you are working 18-hour days, and are just too busy to do time sheets?

Lumps of Coal at Jones Day

The weather is turning colder, which means people are thinking about snowflakes and end-of-the-year bonuses. If what's happening to the administrative staff at Jones Day is any indication, the bonus picture looks discouraging for associates, reports Above the Law: "Not only will they not be getting a bonus this year, but the firm’s entire 'Year End Payment Program' has been terminated. Jones Day says that now it will only pay its staff based on 'performance.'"

ATL also posted the Jones Day memo by partner Hugh Whiting, which states: "We think the firm is best served when compensation for all employees is based on performance and contributions to the firm."

This is just my take, but when I see the words "performance and contributions," I take that to mean: "Whatever you've done this year, it's not going to be enough."


Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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I agree with Tire of Whining. As an added larger problem, if no timesheets are turned in promptly, then no up to date bills can be delivered, which means no cash comes in the door. Think like an owner: no time, no cash. The firm can't operate that way. Finally, who says the memo is not addressed to partners? Many firms use the a similar approach for all attorneys including partners.

If you are even 10 days late with timesheets, you cannot possibly provide an accurate accounting of your time. Lawyers have an ethical obligation to provide accurate billing. Working "18 hour days" and being "too busy" are not excuses, as much as associates (and partners) would like them to be. If you take 5 minutes at the end of each day you can complete your timesheets each day. Even in an "18 hour day" most attorneys spend more than 5 minutes reading twitter, checking personal e-mail, etc. Your ethical obligations come before all of those.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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