The Firms

June 2, 2009 2:10 PM

One Alternative to Being Laid Off: A $100,000 Pay Cut for an In-House Job

Posted by Zach Lowe

Update (3:15 p.m.): Information in the last paragraph of this post was added after the original version was published.

Late last month, we wrote about Am Law firms sending their underworked associates on secondments to corporate clients--and how those corporate clients, knowing they have leverage, are asking the firms to provide those lawyers at a fraction of the cost.

So we perked up this morning when we saw this story in the Chicago Tribune about Mayer Brown sending eight associates to work full-time for various corporate clients in Chicago--provided they're willing to accept annual salaries of $60,000 (down from $160,000). 

When we called Paul Crimmins, the Mayer Brown partner who coordinated the program, to get more information, he explained that the eight associates in Chicago (plus another in Houston) were among the 45 lawyers the firm laid off in April.

The firm approached a dozen of those laid off associates and offered them in-house corporate positions at companies like Kraft Foods Inc., UAL Corp, Baxter International Inc., Fortune Brands, and W.W. Grainger Inc.

The catch? There were two actually: the reduced salary and the understanding that the position would only be guaranteed for one year.

All but two or three accepted it. The others were either moving out of Chicago or didn't want the in-house job, Crimmins says. 

Most of the nine new in-house lawyers were second- or third-year associates at Mayer.

As for what comes next, Crimmins hopes the in-house clients decide to hire the ex-Mayer Brown associates full-time once their year is up. They have no guaranteed jobs at the firm, he says.

"My expectation is that they will be sitting in the catbird seat," Crimmins says. "They'll have both in-house and private practice experience, and they'll be able to say to these companies, 'Now it's time to get married and take this to the next level.'"

Mayer Brown also placed five other laid-off associates in public law jobs, Crimmins says. Those spots last up to 12 months, and the firm will pay associates a $5,000 stipend (plus benefits) for each month they keep the job during that 12-month period, says Marcia Maack, Mayer Brown's assistant director of pro bono programs. 

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