From Above the Law
By Elie Mystal
I find it funny that firms that want to skimp on bonuses also expect associates to make sure they are helping the overall health and performance of the firm. At some level, why should associates care if the firm is up to date on its collections? It’s not like that money is going to trickle down to the time keepers once their hours are realized. Hell, we’ve got people in the comments claiming they are going to purposely underbill in order to hurt firms in 2011 for stinginess in 2010.
The firms aren’t wrong to be doing everything they can to get associates to enter in their hours in a timely fashion. Time keeping is more accurate when you do it every day (as opposed to trying to recreate your days at the end of the week or month). Firms are struggling to collect from their clients. And, for what it’s worth, billing hours is part of the job for attorneys. I just find it ironic that firms are trying to pressure their associates to produce more money for them even as they are sharing a smaller percentage of those profits with associates.
It’s pretty clear that being a part of a Biglaw firm isn’t a “team” proposition. Everybody for themselves; that’s how the partners act, and that’s how partners expect associates to act.
And so Hughes Hubbard is bringing a little personal punishment to associates who are late with their time…
If you’ve been following along with Above the Law, you know that a number of firms have stepped up the pressure on associate time keeping. Simpson Thacher, defenders of the cheap Cravath bonus scale, got the ball rolling back in November, by threatening to dock the pay of associates who were delinquent with their billable hours.
Then Steve Pesner of Akin Gump sent out an email (an email that still hasn’t been repudiated by Akin Gump management) threatening the livelihood of all the associates in his department. Later, Brown Rudnick tried the “get more flies with honey than with petulant screaming” tactic, by offering to raffle off free iPads for time keepers who were up to date with their time.
The Hughes Hubbard plan is along the lines of STB’s: punishing delinquent timekeepers with pay cuts. Hughes Hubbard is proposing significant, irrevocable docks in pay for people who are more than five days late in entering their time. The new rule is buried in a lengthy firm-wide email touting the virtues of a new timekeeping system. Here’s the pertinent part:
We are confident that the new Elite Webview time system will make it even easier for the Firm’s timekeepers to enter their time on a contemporaneous basis. To compliment that new system, we are implementing a new approach to the issue of late time: if a timkeeper has more than five business days of late time prior to any payroll date, the timkeeper’s gross salary will be reduced by 5% in the first instance, prospectively for the next pay date. The reduction will be increased to 10% in the second instance and to 20% in the third instance and any subsequent instance. The reduced salary will continue in effect until the timekeeper’s time is no longer more than five business days in arrears by a payroll date.
There will be no retroactive restoration of a timekeeper’s reduced salary unless, in the discretion of the Chief Operating Officer or his designee after a showing of exceptional circumstances, the Chief Operating Officer or his designee approves an exception in writing. If a timekeeper has any reason to believe that he or she will be unable to complete time records in compliance with this policy, the timkeeper must communicate this in advance to the Chief Operating Officer or his designee.
The new policy will become effective on January 1, 2011 in all of our U.S. offices (save for Los Angeles, which is implementing a different program to address the late-time problem).
Damn. Up to a 20% reduction, with no restoration absent a written exception? Hughes Hubbard is like the not f**king around crew.
However, according to the Hughes Hubbard associates committee, “this not f***ing around thing is about to go both ways.” Here’s the response from the associates committee:
The associates committee will be collecting questions about the new time policy described in the [prior] email. Please read that email and the new policy carefully. In addition to being sent during a week when most people are out, the headline is buried deep in the fourth paragraph.
In short, the firm has a new policy of reducing your salary for late time entries. Late is defined as five days. The salary reductions can cut as deeply as 20% of your gross pay. The policy is going into effect as of January 1, 20111 except in our LA and Paris offices (because the policy is illegal in those jurisdictions). You will want to ensure that your secretary gets your time in promptly and no longer enters it in batches.
If you have any questions about the policy that you would like for the associates committee to raise to the partnership, please send them to me and I will pass them on.
They sound pissed.
But really, what are they going to do? You’re supposed to enter your time, on time. You can bitch about it, but at the end of the day you exist to make money for the firm. All you can really hope for is to work for a firm that will reinvest some of those profits back into your bank account.
And if you really want to work for a place like that, you should probably send in a résumé to Cahill or Kirkland or Boies or some other firm that pays top of the market bonuses.