Bonuses, How Do They Work?

I’m revisiting the hell out of old posts this week.  Not too long ago I posted about how Above the Law had an article detailing the horrendous burden of BigLaw associates possibly not getting the bonuses they expected.  In the article it was touted as an example of all that was wrong with the world, the fact that these poor, beleaguered first-year associates may see a reduction in their discretionary compensation that they are awarded in addition to a six-figure salary and benefits.  The world stood still, and people wept for them.

Actually, I’m pretty sure I just poo-poo’d the whole idea of this being a tragedy of some sort, because the vast amount of attorneys in the world aren’t in BigLaw and therefore have no expectation of receiving a bonus that’s pegged in any way to the Cravath Scale.  The Cravath Scale, by the way, is the salary and bonus scale paid by Cravath Swaine & Moore, LLP, a two hundred year old white shoe firm that is considered the industry standard for BigLaw compensation.  Let me point out that looking at the listing of law schools that Cravath attorneys hail from, very few of them are “for profit” law schools that exist outside outside of the top ranked schools in the country, and there are a number of foreign law schools on there.

The short read on this is for the vast majority of attorneys out there this holiday season, what Cravath does or doesn’t do won’t apply to you.  You are not BigLaw.  Your firm is not bringing in Cravath level money.  You do not work the same number of hours at the same billable rate and in the same markets as Cravath associates.  The Cravath Scale will have no effect on you, and is not a good benchmark for what you should expect bonus wise.

Hell, there’s a chance you shouldn’t expect a bonus at all, you lout.

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Stop Oversharing: Clients Aren’t Your Bros

Alright, so let’s face the hard truth that in an over-saturated legal market there are plenty of lawyers out there who are willing to take on any case.  Let’s go even further and say that there are lawyers out there who are breaking the cardinal rules set at our monthly ritualistic sacrifice of an alleged tortfeasor (afterwards we have cocktails and network) by charging well under the basement-fees for our regions.  Let’s  just accept, in general, that to some extent a lawyer who has succeeded in getting a client on the hook by getting them in the door still needs to reel that client in and get them to sign the engagement letter.

Have you bought a car recently?  I sold those suckers for a bit, so I know a little bit about how it works.  When you bought the car did you notice the salesman had a picture of a kid on his desk?  Not necessarily his kid, but a kid, and you sure as hell assumed it was his kid, right?  How about the Bible sitting on the corner of the desk?  Everytime you had a story or comment about something that happened to you or a concern, the salesman had a story related to it about how he knows exactly what you mean because he’d been through the same thing, or knew someone who had.  You know that shit was all meant to make you feel close to him so he could stick your ass in the seat of a new-to-you, perfectly-functional-except-for-the-A/C 1997 Toyota Camry with low, low mileage of only 165,000 miles (they just don’t make engines that last that long anymore, I tell you what).  It’s a scheme, a way to ingratiate yourself to the buyer to make them feel a bond with you.

Lawyers are guilty of the same thing.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? When to Bug Out From Your Firm.

Yesterday Keith R. Lee of Associate’s Mind made a good blog post about how to leave your law firm.  I have to say, reading it put me in the mind that my current plan of hiring a marching band and skywriter to announce my exit, if it ever comes, was likely not Kosher.  My other option, as suggested by a member of the super-secret lawyer’s chat room Keith runs, was to pull an Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption and have a partner discover my absence only when they notice the bankers boxes piled against the outside wall are moving slightly in the breeze.  The partner could slowly have realization dawn on his face as he opened box after box, finding them devoid of files, and then, as he moved the last one, discovering the small hole in the wall, just big enough for an associate in a suit to squeeze out of and into freedom.

On an unrelated note, a guy I once worked with in another job who was a little off had a dog that chewed a hole entirely through the wall of his house.  We used to joke about how bad the house must be if the dog was that anxious to get out.

Anyhow, that’s unrelated but a decent segue into my topic for today.

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Advertising Errors: Update Your Ads

So I was sick yesterday.  Sick as in woke up and went to the bathroom to immediately throw up.  Sick as in a fountain of various unseemly bodily fluids erupting from both ends of my body.  Sick as in hunched over a garbage can hacking up bile and praying that sweet death would come and take me.  Keep that in mind as you read today’s post, because it may be a little disjointed.

But I was in the office, because that’s the life I chose.  Also, because one of my clients that I’ve been hounding for payment was coming in to meet with me, and I wanted to make sure I was there to collect the check.  The check that was discounted, because they raised the fact that an old version of the firm website advertised “free consultations.”  Trust me, it took some fighting with the higher-ups to get the invoice discounted.

“Everyone advertises those,” the higher-ups said, “but nobody takes them too seriously.”

“Well,” I responded, “Everyone may be violating an ethical rule, and it just isn’t worth an hour of the bill.”

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Involuntary Pro Bono: When Clients Ignore Invoices

Here’s a rule of thumb to keep in the front of your mind during every client interaction:

Clients are scum that will take every opportunity to screw you over.

Clients will walk off with your invoices unpaid, taunting you to come after them. If you do come after them, clients will file unfounded bar complaints that you have to defend. If you sue a client for past-due fees, you’ll draw the ire of the local bar association because you didn’t submit to their fee-dispute mediation program. If you try to retain a client’s file to try and force the payment, they file a bar complaint. At the end of the day, trying to collect from a client who wants to avoid paying you is a nightmare for the lawyer, to the point that many of us look at how much is owed, figure it’s the cost of doing business, and write it off.

By the way, those written off fees?  They don’t count towards your pro bono requirements if you have one.  Ain’t that some shit.

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