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Why Firms Are Throwing Money At Associate Retention

Aebra Coe law360.com

Quinn Emanuel’s recent decision to pass out bonuses to high-billing associates who remain loyal to the law firm reflects and exemplifies a changing legal marketplace where mid-level attorneys are increasingly difficult to retain and the goals of young lawyers are in flux.

At the end of August, the elite litigation law firm announced it would set aside 1 percent of its annual profits — an estimated $8 million based on 2016 profitability figures — to create a bonus pool to award second- through sixth-year associates that meet certain billing targets and have demonstrated devotion to the firm by sticking with it for at least three years.

“The most mobile group of associates is midlevel associates and I think that’s been on firms’ minds for a while,” said Michelle Fivel, a partner in the associate practice group of Major, Lindsey & Africa.

Midlevel associates at the largest law firms demand rates upward of $400 an hour. For an associate billing 2,000 hours, that means the net income each associate likely generates is approximately $800,000, far more than the salary they are typically paid at BigLaw firms — $260,000 base pay for a sixth-year associate plus a bonus of approximately $80,000.

“Losing a productive associate in their prime can be very costly to a law firm,” Fivel said.

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