Here are five principles (in no particular order of importance) of which all lawyers should remind themselves if they are in a position to decide how much to pay other lawyers at their firm, or are on the receiving end of such decisions.
- There is no perfect system. An approach that works well at one firm can destroy another firm. Further, an approach that worked well ten years ago at a firm can cause that same firm today to break up.
- The best systems reward behavior that aligns with a firm’s culture and strategic goals. Law firm culture and goals vary. So should compensation systems. In addition, culture and goals can change. The best systems adapt.
- K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple, stupid. It should take a few minutes (or a few paragraphs in an email) to explain the firm’s system and the rationale.
- You can’t please everyone. Inevitably, whatever a lawyer does well, be it originating business, minding clients, billing a ton of hours, doing administrative tasks, etc., that same lawyer will typically strongly believe that such behavior should be handsomely rewarded. Unfortunately, the pie is only so big. Inevitably by rewarding one type of behavior, another behavior will be devalued.
- Remember, you’re still paid relatively well. I’ve always maintained that most lawyers would be quite content with what they make in isolation. Only when they learn what folks down the hall are making does that contentment turn into resentment. Keep your perspective in check.