With soaring associate salaries in BigFirms reaching $160,000 per year for first years, something had to give. McDermott Will & Emery, a 1,000 attorney firm, announced it was creating a new class of associates. Instead of turning to contract attorneys or sending its grunt work overseas, McDermott has decided to bring in 15 lawyers with a few years of experience who do not want to work BigFirm hours.
The idea is to pay this new group 25% less and have them work 30-40 hours per week. This is a very interesting development for paralegals. With first-year associate salaries pushed over the top, jobs for paralegals were predicted to increase as clients objected strenously to training first-years on their dime and increased billing rates. Associates are churning due to excessive billable hours in order to stay profitable. The tendency to force lower level work down to the lowest competent level was never so necessary as when the $160k salary came into play. Now, this new group is expected to take on more mundane tasks such as document review, a paralegal assignment since the beginning of time.
It’s interesting that firms insist on hiring associates to do paralegal work in order to keep the revenue line up. Frankly, if they did the math, they may find that while the top line is greater by billing out associates, planning and executing a carefully crafted paralegal program can actually net a greater profit margin percentage, avoid turnover and keep their associates and clients happier. When will we ever learn?