As a recruiting firm, we talk to both partners and associates at firms in every major legal marketplace on a daily basis. These conversations often concern why a lawyer is dissatisfied with his/her current firm or what kind of lawyer a firm seeks to hire. We have discovered that the salary increases that have taken place over the past several years have actually had the effect of straining professional relationships between partners and associates and also between partners. In the end, the more that money becomes the dominating factor defining the relationships among attorneys, the more the profession becomes like a business and less like, well, a profession.

Salary wars and associate hiring

A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes

Since late 2000, the results of the salary wars that occurred in the legal marketplace should have become quite noticeable. One of our legal recruiters, who has been recruiting for more than 20 years, recently told the story of how just 15 years ago, firms in Los Angeles would almost never fire an associate. This same recruiter actually received a phone call from a major Los Angeles law firm telling him it would pay him $20,000 if he could recruit away one of its attorneys and place that attorney in another firm (where he would also earn a fee). While this may sound drastic, the thought of this firm's forcing the same attorney out, or firing the attorney, was not something the firm wanted to convey. Lawyers at this firm simply did not do that sort of thing.