JLU: Junior Lawyers' Union

Asserting the rights of junior lawyers, who have much more power than they realise.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lawyers as mushrooms: what junior lawyers are paid

I once heard a partner complain that a particular senior associate running a large transaction was "treating us like mushrooms". Confused, the other junior lawyer present and I glanced at each other, before hesitantly asking the partner to clarify what he meant.
"She's keeping us in the dark and feeding us shit," he barked back.

On the question of pay, law firms have adopted a practice of treating its junior lawyers like mushrooms. A term of our employment contracts, of which we are repeatedly reminded, is that we keep our salaries confidential.

The law firms themselves, meanwhile, know not only what their employees are being paid - but also what other firms are paying. Firms have for years now jointly commissioned a leading research organisation to provide them with a formal report on the matter. As an eminent Trade Practices partner once half-joked, "Technically, we make enough noises and are sufficiently aware of what the others pay to be considered to be acting in concert."

So the law firms know what the others are paying and could be said to be engaging in anti-competitive behaviour in order to ensure salaries don't get out of hand. Yet these same law firms attempt to keep junior lawyers in the dark by insisting that they do not discuss their salaries with others.

The JLU objects to the cloak of secrecy that surrounds lawyers' pay. While the JLU is not interested in knowing what you, as an individual lawyer, are being paid, we would like to provide our members with this useful information: what are law firms paying its junior lawyers?

Please email juniorlawyersunion@gmail.com with any information you may have. It will, of course, be treated anonymously. Alternatively, feel free to leave an anonymous comment on this post with information. We aim to reveal what lawyers (below the level of senior associate) are being paid for FY2006-7. Where there are bands, we will focus on the average or middle band for each year level.

Once we have collected a reasonable amount of information, we intend to collate and publish it on this site.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

***BREAKING NEWS*** Top tier law firm freezes salaries

In a JLU exclusive, the JLU has learned that one top-tier national law firm has frozen the salary bands for its junior lawyers.

The firm's junior lawyers who progress to a higher pay band on 1 July will not receive an increase on the amount their colleagues on that band received last year, as the pay level for each band has remained unchanged. In real terms, then, this reflects a decrease in salary paid to lawyers on each band.

Traditionally, the salaries at each pay band increase at or above CPI.

Two years ago, in a much-hyped exercise, the same law firm held firm-wide departmental meetings with staff to announce that pay band salaries would not increase. This move created a mood of disappointment and demoralised staff. Consequently, the firm appears to have eschewed a policy of transparency on this occasion, calculating that it is preferable to downplay the bad news or even hope it goes unnoticed.

More information as it comes to hand.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Performance reviews and what you're worth

"There's a -- uhh -- perception that you tend to be gone by six o'clock," a partner recently told a JLU member in his performance review, again highlighting the dissonance between law firm culture and community norms.

"Well, uh, yeah," the surprised junior lawyer responded, buying time while mentally formulating a defence to what appeared to be some sort of criticism. "I don't see any need to stay for appearances. I get the work done and then I go home."

"I suppose that makes sense," pondered the partner, head tilted to one side. "After all, you might as well just leave a blow-up doll at your desk otherwise." The partner paused for a moment to scribble a note on a form, suggesting the lawyer's prospects within the firm were seriously limited.

It is performance review season in many law firms around the country and that means the faux "firm smiles" stiffen to breaking point and the corporate euphemisms are bandied about with vigour.

Partners find new ways of telling lawyers to work harder and longer and lawyers find new ways of disguising their contempt for partners. Lawyers usually fail dismally. Partners know lawyers despise them and lawyers know partners know. But the door is closed and everyone smiles and makes polite conversation.

Then, at the first lull in conversation, the partner reaches for a checklist, makes like he or she is performing the review under sufferance from "the partnership" and says, "I've been told I have to run through this form -- you know, formalities..."

In some ways this is true. The partner doesn't like having to remind the lawyer to work harder - that's the job of the culture of the firm.

At the conclusion of the performance review, or shortly thereafter, an envelope is handed to the lawyer. The envelope contains a letter and the letter contains a number. All the words and punctuation surrounding the number are entirely irrelevant, save for the dollar sign before the number, which indicates that the number represents the amount the lawyer is to be paid over the coming year. That, comrade, is your value.

Or, put another way, the number represents what is left over once the partners have met, calculated the firm's receipts from the past 12 months, projected the firm's receipts for the next 12, subtracted expenses (office leases, support staff wages, equipment supplies, etc), deducted hefty partnership distributions and determined the scraps to be divided among the lawyers. That number, comrade, is your share of the scraps. It is handed down to you from the table in monthly instalments. Or it would be - if law firms didn't follow the sneaky practice of including superannuation in your "remuneration". So about 91% of it is handed to you. (Minus tax. But you can't blame law firms for that.)

You are then discouraged (and usually contractually barred) from discussing your salary with your colleagues - let alone others in the legal fraternity - lest you discover you might be worth more and decide to take your profit-making skills elsewhere.

Just in case you were wondering, though, Michael Page Recruitment Consultants publishes an annual guide as to what lawyers are getting paid. Its brackets are so broad that they are almost meaningless - but, hey, it's something. Not exactly empowering but perhaps a gap in the shroud of secrecy woven by firms.

You can find it here: http://www.michaelpage.com.au/pdfstore?src=2006_Legal_SalarySurvey.pdf

If you have any performance review stories, let us know at juniorlawyersunion@gmail.com. Also, a quick reminder that, if you wish to join (for free) and receive JLU updates direct to your inbox, send us an email (at the same address) and we'll add you to the list.

Best of luck with your reviews - and, more importantly, the envelopes.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Dilbert joins the JLU


A JLU member sent in the cartoon, below. In a few short panels, it encapsulates why our industry, more than any other, so desperately needs our union. Enjoy.

(Click on the cartoon for clearer text.)

We reproduce this cartoon under one of the fair dealing copyright exemptions. (Don't ask which one.) Failing that, we note that we have reproduced it not for a commercial or profit-making purpose but for spreading the truth. Damages, for that reason, wouldn't be worth seeking. Right?