By: Caryn Tamber
Just a couple of years ago, big-firm associates would have rejoiced at the news of a cut in their minimum billable hour requirement. In my reporting on the business of law beat, I got the impression that some of them would gladly have accepted a slight pay decrease in exchange for the chance to bill “only,” say, 1,800 hours.
I doubt the Hogan & Hartson associates who just got their billable requirements knocked back are doing much celebrating.
Here’s the way Hogan usually works: the firm has two associate billable hour tracks, one at 1,950 and the other at 1,800. Associates had their choice, though I imagine those who wanted to make partner would feel bound to bill the higher amount. As of fall 2008, Hogan was paying first-year associates $160,000 at the 1,950-hour level and $137,500 at 1,800 hours.
Above the Law reported that Hogan is now actually bumping some associates down to 1,800 based on their low billables over the last five months. (Those low billables, of course, would be a result of the decreased amount of work the associates get now that, you know, the sky is falling.) Associates who started at the firm in 2008 and just got knocked back to 1,800 hours will now make $145,000. Those who chose the 1,800-hour track will still make $137,500.
“At first blush, you might say, well, that seems unfair,” Hogan chairman Warren Gorrell told me this morning. But, he said, the firm saw no reason to give those who chose the lower track a raise in this economic climate. Gorrell said that lawyers who bill above 1,800 will get a prorated increase in pay.
It’s one thing for an associate to get to choose how many hours to bill, confident that if she wanted at some point to move up from 1,800 to 1,950, the work would be there. It’s another for an associate to get involuntarily bumped down because there’s not enough work to go around. No, I’m thinking no one’s pleased here.
Really, though, Hogan is basically doing what other firms have done in cutting or freezing associate salaries, just in a more targeted way. Most associates at those firms surely have less work these days, too. Hogan is just making an explicit connection: less work equals less money.
On a related note, Hogan is laying off 93 staffers, but Gorrell said the firm will not disclose which offices were affected.