Friday, March 7, 2008

"Runaway Associate Salaries" Present Marketing Opportunities for Freelancers

On February 27th, Dan Slater of the WSJ Law Blog posted an article entitled “Runaway Associate Salaries Denting Profits-Per-Partner” ( which talks of equity partners “watch[ing] helplessly as two associate raises . . . eat into their year-end take.” Can’t you just see the cartoon? Law school graduates tying senior law firm partners to their leather chairs behind mahogany desks, putting guns to their heads, demanding higher salaries.

Ironically, study after study shows that associates are willing to accept substantial cuts in pay in exchange for fewer hours. In an ABA Journal poll, a stunning 84.2 percent of those responding indicated they would be willing to earn less money in exchange for lower billable-hour requirements. ( See also “Law Firm Associate Dichotomy: Mega Salary vs. Pay Cut for Fewer Hours” at But law firm partners are highly resistant to such change.

Frequently increasing associate salaries, it seems, are not a result of associates demanding more money, but law firms in a mad recruiting competition with rival law firms as well as the perception that if you want fewer hours, you can’t be serious about your work. While we could spend a great deal of time commenting on the flaws in this system, as freelancers, there is a way to use runaway associate salaries as part of your marketing pitch to potential clients.

By way of example, consider an inhouse counsel who usually would use an outside firm to conduct legal research projects and other projects. They are accustomed to receiving billings for work of those increasingly pricey associates and may be growing weary of them. As a freelancer, you can provide higher quality work product at a much lower price. Pull up the bios of a couple associates from local law firms that have approximately the same length of practice as you. Compare those with your qualifications and experience, and provide some samples of your work product (a good place to post samples of your work is a newly launched website

Inhouse counsel are tentatively discussing outsourcing some of their legal projects. In January 2006 an article was published on InHouseBlog – “Freelance Attorneys: A Valuable Alternative For In-House Counsel . . . Sometimes.” ( Another article of note was published on the same site in January 2008 titled “GCs Embrace Outsourced Work” ( If you are targeting inhouse counsel as potential clients, it would be well worth your time to peruse the InHouseBlog for other articles on the subject.

In your sales pitch, don’t forget to mention the benefits of outsourcing locally vs. offshore (India is booming with outsourced legal services). Then offer a money-back guarantee of your work. You have now given them no reason to not try your services and when you give them top quality work and predictable and reasonable prices, they will be hooked.


Anonymous said...

I fail to see how this creates any opportunities for contract attorneys. Contract attorneys are not contract attorneys because they want to be and law firms are paying these salaries because they are competing for the only attorneys that they deem acceptable. And, the "unacceptable" attorneys remain so. I might add that this label is not necessarily tied to law school or class rank. This is a misconception perpetuated by BigLaw and IndianDocReviewWannaBe's as they attempt to justify creating such a class system within their own buildings. In other words, those denied the opportunity to even start a career are not going to be selected for anything other than contract document review. Moreover, most positions now expressly say NO DOC if to say that if one has ever performed this task, then one is an UNTOUCHABLE. Meanwhile, associates perform this task...and it is merely paying dues. So, we shouldn't look for BigLaw OR their partners in this situation--InHouseLaw--to see anything in terms of contract attorneys other than "the untouchables," largely minority and disproportionately female.

Melody Kramer said...

Contract attorneys can either bemoan their situation, or do something about it. I always opt for doing something about it.

Document review is not a "solution," but rather can be made a means to an end.

The important first question here is "what do you want to do?" If the answer to that is "I want to get a high-paying associate job with a BigLaw firm and work my way up to partner," then I agree that being a doc reviewer may impede that quest. There are not any good or defensible reasons for that, but the reasons are all of the same bad reasons that caused those firms to not hire those attorneys in the first place, be it a race thing, or woman thing, or whatever.

So, how do you want to spend your days? Do you want to be in court? Do you want to be doing legal research and brief writing? Identify that first, then start marketing those skills.