Clients Don’t Care About Associate Salaries or Bonuses (Only Partners Do)

So I was talking with the Kevin at LexBlog about what he pays those support people I interact with when — wait, no, none of that happened, because I don’t care and it’s none of my business.

LexBlog provides a service. I thought the fee was fair and reasonable and that I got a great service. So I paid the fee and got the service. If the salaries or working conditions LexBlog provide intentionally violate labor, employment or discrimination laws, then we’ve got a problem. Otherwise, I have better things to do than micromanage my service provider’s business.

Same for most clients, though that doesn’t stop the inevitable rumors — present in both good and bad economic conditions — that clients are demanding their law firms cut back on associate salaries (via Above The Law, which routinely spills the beans on bonuses).

Baloney.

What About Clients? agrees. In this economic climate, a business client fretting about excessive law firm associate bonuses — which have never been billed to them — is a business about to go under for mismanagement. A business client who drops a supposedly trusted, effective law firm for "excessive associate bonuses" is being polite. What they mean is: you’re not worth your fees.

A partner who says "clients don’t like bonuses" means "I don’t want to pay you a bonus since it comes out of my pocket, not the client’s."

What about, say, the evidence that bonuses don’t increase productivity? Shouldn’t clients be concerned?

Maybe that’s something worth forwarding to Kevin, just like how I frequently tell my clients or providers about technology or management techniques that I’ve found useful. But let’s be serious here: if I find his service is not living up to expectations, I’ll tell him and we’ll figure out a solution. It’s none of my business how he splits his profits.

I’ve got better things to do. So do clients.

[Update: Carolyn Elefant at the Legal Blog Watch links here alongside other posts and an American Lawyer article on Cravath's decision to reduce bonuses. Feel free to join the conversation in her comments section.]

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