Scott Greenfield is perplexed. He’s a top-notch criminal defense guy with more years of trials and appeals under his belt than he probably cares to count, and doesn’t understand why BigLaw is paying obscene amounts of money to young associates who are years away from gaining actual, useful experience.
Scott writes, with salaries now approaching $200K (actually way more when you count the bonuses), that the ridiculous numbers now being paid are surely the thing that will drive business away from BigLaw and into the hands of the solos and small practitioners. “First year associates are near useless as lawyers,” he writes. “They are incapable of producing useful legal work, and at best churn out wasteful hours of memos stating the obvious at great length in order to produce the requisite number of hours. Sure, they think they’re doing a bang-up job, but that’s only because they have no clue of the utility of their efforts.”
While it’s understandable that newbie lawyers will go to these places to put in their 2,000+ billable hours a year, have no life, rake in the dough and get little useful experience if they actually intend to litigate cases, it doesn’t explain why the clients hire them.
But that part is easy. Clients often hire BigLaw for one reason: Because the person that does the hiring knows that no one will ever second guess them on trying to find “the best.” They don’t have to actually be the best, of course. It’s like the old Wall Street saying that no one ever got fired for buying IBM. It didn’t have to be the best stock, and the BigLaw firm doesn’t have to be the best firm. But the person that does the hiring knows that they won’t lose their job with a BigLaw pick, but that picking a firm with “only” 100 lawyers, or heaven forbid, just five lawyers or a solo, opens them up to criticism if things go wrong. The fact that the smaller firm might be able to do twice the job at half the price doesn’t really factor into the equation.
It’s just the age-old game of CYA. Nothing more. Nothing less.