How many law firms in the 2007 National Law Journal survey reported a decrease in their partner and associate billing rates? One. Atlanta's Sutherland Asbill & Brennan reported that in 2006 its high end partners billed $845 an hour but that in 2007, the high end partners billed $715 an hour. Oh, wait. That was a mistake. A spokeswoman for Sutherland Asbill later reported the high end of the firm's partner range actually was $890 and blamed the error on a "reporting anomaly." The good news for clients: the average for Sutherland's associate billing dropped to $515 per hour. :-)
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Can a law firm fire an attorney for failing to seed the clouds? Apparently not, according to a New York state judge who affirmed a $425,000 arbitrator's award against mega-firm Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner.
The claim: An attorney with a two-year employment agreement was dumped in 2006 for failing to generate enough billables or bring in new clients.
Thelen's defense: They had no obligation to employ a "million dollar space warmer."
Thelen's problem: The employment agreement didn't clearly specify any rainmaking obligation. (Like they say, the shoemaker's children go barefoot.) And to add to the pain, Thelen had to pay attorneys' fees.
Call them the Lords of the Bling. Salaries for first year associates in a few white-shoe firms rose to $160,000 in 2007.
How much more is that in billable hours? One blogger referred to this leap of faith as the “Great Associate Salary Spike of 2007” and calculated that if associates at Simpson Thatcher were billed out at $300 an hour, they'd need to work an additional 50 hours per year to cover the increase. The median for first year associates at firms with 500+ attorneys is actually a little lower at $145,000, according to the recently released NALP 2007 Associate Salary Survey, but it’s still a $10K jump over last year’s numbers.
What about the rest of the new lawyers? Keep in mind that those massive salaries apply to only a small fraction of first year attorneys. According to Payscale, the median salary nationally for recent law school grads is between $50,000 and $60,000.