I was just reading the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.  Seems that Mayer Brown, DLA Piper and Latham are joining the growing tide of firms raising the starting salaries of their first year associates to $135,000.  Mark Jungers of Major Lindsey & Africa, a prominent recruiting firm, predicted that Kirkland, Sidley, Winston and McDermott will quickly follow suit.  I would be surprised if any of the top 10 or so Chicago firms hold the line.  The expectation is that there will be $10,000 bumps (in some cases “only” $5,000) to the salaries (or at least annual compensation) of all associates in the firm.

What do these salary increases mean for firms and their clients?  Simple math will tell you that these “bumps” are multi-million dollar hits to the firms bottom lines.  There are, at the end of the day, only two choices.  Do the partners make less (while the associates are making more), or do clients pay more for the same work?  It does not require an advanced degree to know that the partners will not make less.

It is at times like this that the pressure to increase total hours is at its most intense.  Some firms may be forthright and acknowledge that hourly requirements will go up.  Others will do what what I have heard referred to a “manage hours up.”  Other firms will increase rates.  But however it is accomplished, firms will capture this revenue from their clients.  All for the same work.

Has the value to the client increased?  Of course not. 

There has been so much negative buzz lately about value received, hourly rates, paying for associate training, and so forth.  This salary increase will do nothing but increase the economic pressures that drive wedges between clients and some of their lawyers.  Perhaps this will be the event that marks the death knell of the hourly rate.