After the $180K Salary Bump, What About Benefits in Big Law?

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By Carmen Castro-Pagan

Aug. 12 — A number of big law firms in the past few months have increased the salaries of first-year associates to $180,000—but that's not the only thing firms are doing to attract and retain talent.

Major law firms have also become quite generous with the benefits they provide attorneys and staff. Some benefit packages include flexible schedules, child care and elderly care assistance, student loan assistance programs, paid parental leave, unlimited paid vacation, private banking, subsidized gym membership and career and family coaching services.

Firms are making an effort to recruit and retain the best talent and also accommodate attorneys' needs. “In my experience, firms are genuinely and sincerely committed to the happiness of their associates,” Derek Mize, director of Major, Lindsey & Africa LLC, a global recruiting firm based in New York told Bloomberg BNA. When a perk will provide a benefit for their attorneys, firms will be happy to provide it, Mize said.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP is offering nontraditional benefits out of a recognition that the legal talent pool is shrinking, Siobhan A. Handley, the firm's chief talent officer, told Bloomberg BNA. Factors such as declining law school enrollment and low LSAT scores means that fewer of the most talented students are entering the profession, “so the war for talent is intensifying,” she said.

Legal industry big names are offering the traditional benefits that include health-care coverage, 401(k) plans, life insurance and disability benefits. But some of them are going the extra mile.

Family-Oriented Benefits

Firms are moving to accommodate more flexible arrangements for their attorneys and this includes parental leave. “This generation is less inclined to make the stark choice between work and family,” Handley said.

“We decided it was time to set a new bar for parental leave in law firms and to pair that with a serious commitment to flexible work arrangements,” Handley said. In 2015, Orrick started offering primary caregivers 22 weeks of paid parental leave and up to nine months of job protection.

Last May, Winston & Strawn LLP announced a gender-neutral parental leave program that offered U.S.-based associates paid leave of up to 20 weeks.

Other firms, including Goodwin, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Jenner & Block LLP , Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, Sidley Austin LLP, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and Arnold & Porter LLP are offering up to 18 weeks of paid parental leave for primary caretakers.

Goodwin also offers coaching services for attorneys who are taking advantage of the firm's parental leave policies, Laura Lemmons, the firm's managing director of benefits, HRIS & HR Operations, told Bloomberg BNA. Attorneys can consult one-on-one with trained in-house coaches about managing expectations and pressures at work and at home, Lemmons said.

White & Case LLP has an adoption assistance program that allows employees to set aside pretax dollars of up to $13,460 to help offset adoption expenses, Susanne Wamba, the firm's global director of benefits and compensation, told Bloomberg BNA.

Flexible work arrangements that allow attorneys to take care of family responsibilities and child care and elderly care assistance are also among the benefits packages of many firms.

Student Loan Assistance

Industries across the board are adopting programs to assist employees with their student loan debts. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Aetna, Inc. are the most recent companies that announced such programs.

Law firms aren't staying behind.

Goodwin adopted a program to help lawyers and professional staff refinance and consolidate their student loans, Lemmons said. The program, which is provided through Citizens Banks and First Republic Bank, includes no application/loan origination fees, lower interest rates and automatic loan repayments, Lemmons said

Orrick offers its employees a debt refinancing program and will offer a loan repayment benefit starting in September.

The firm started offering loan refinancing through SoFi, Handley said. The refinancing program offers Orrick employees lower rates than federal or private options and a $500 cash welcome bonus, Handley said. So far, SoFi has refinanced about $8.4 million of student loans for 72 Orrick lawyers and staff, resulting in approximately $2 million of savings, Handley said.

Starting in September, Orrick will also offer first-year associates a student loan repayment program by making a $100 monthly contribution toward the principal on loans until they become eligible to receive their first bonus payment. Handley said that the firm has had a very positive reaction and that associates appreciate that the firm is focused on one of their largest expenses and sources of stress.

Lifestyle Benefits

Besides family- and finance-related benefits, firms are also helping attorneys enhance their health and advance their careers.

White & Case has an unlimited paid vacation policy, which is very unusual in the legal industry. This policy allows "more flexibility and control over the time of their vacations, and removes the pressure of the 'use it or lose it' rule, knowing they will never lose vacations days," Wamba said.

Steptoe & Johnson has an on-site fitness center and offers yoga and Zumba instruction, as well as discounts to Washington, D.C.-area gyms. The firm also has an on-site travel agency. Another firm that provides gym membership assistance to its attorneys is Alston & Bird . The firm also offers on-site massage therapy, a smoking cessation program and firm-sponsored participation in sports events.

Career counseling is another perk quite popular among firms. This is one of the benefits that jumped due to the 2008 financial crisis, Mize said.

Quinn Emanuel provides eligible associates with $2,000 to get them to any location they choose around the world for one week, with destinations including Turkey, Colombia and Hawaii, according to the firm's website. Under Quinn's Global Experience Program, associates can also work out of another firm office for two weeks, while the firm provides them with up to $3,000 in travel and living expenses.

Private banking is also offered by firms like Cravath, Davis Polk, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP and Simpson Thacher.

As to other perks like free dinners, sports and concert tickets, Mize said that they are mostly offered as part of the firms' summer associate programs and as rewards for attorneys who exceed on their billable hours.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carmen Castro-Pagan in Washington at ccastro-pagan@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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