The president of the D.C. Bar blames escalating law firm salaries:
For the law firms that pay them, astronomical associate salaries increase pressures on profitability, which take a heavy toll on firm culture.
Associates leave big law firms in spite of the money and not because it isn’t enough. Higher salaries will do nothing to give associates greater responsibility, more rewarding work, better training, or increased access to mentors—the things that many associates who leave big firms say they wanted but didn’t get.
For those associates who do tough it out, these higher salaries are not a happy development. There is no free lunch. Higher salaries inevitably mean higher billable-hour expectations and even less work–life balance. Greater emphasis on revenue generation seems inevitably to reduce the quality of lawyers’ lives.
Another article agrees:
If improving associate morale was Simpson's goal, says Link, the raise may do more harm than good.
A higher salary "puts more pressure on productivity and hours," says Link, exacerbating precisely the quality-of-life issues that make junior lawyers unhappy.
As for overall associate happiness, the raise could have a negative impact.
Many firms will ask associates to cover their own raises with longer days or higher productivity. During the last round of hikes, Dechert raised its New York salary from $125,000 to $145,000. At the same time, the firm raised its minimum billables from 1,950 to 2,000 hours, according to associates at Dechert. An associate at Covington & Burling says that even if there isn't a formal change in the requirements, partners will simply expect more hours.
"We don't say, 'Here's your raise, now work 50 more hours,'" says Roger Warin, chairman of Steptoe & Johnson. "But associates know, for most firms, that's the way the math works."
The D.C. Bar president's suggestion, however, sounded familiar:
Don’t become dependent on the money. Live below your means, and be generous. Once you’ve got your educational debt under control, do what you want to do because you love it, not what you have to do to maintain a lifestyle. Remember why you went to law school: to make a difference. And follow your heart.