Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

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Anon94512

Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Anon94512 » Fri May 14, 2021 1:04 pm

How common is this really? I hear the whole up or out situation at many large firms, but is this really an exaggeration or does this happen more regularly than people talk about? Why would firms not keep a midlevel or senior associate as senior counsel/of counsel forever if they are happy with that title?

Story
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Story » Sat May 15, 2021 4:15 am

In many big law firms, it is traditionally the case, yes.

It’s an “up or out” system meant to promote productivity and efficiency. So you never “rest on your laurels” or get stagnant. That is the intent at least. Not sure if effective.

The practice is actually common in this country. The military uses this system, for example. “Keep the troops lean mean fighting machines!” I suppose.

By the way, I didn’t totally understand your thread title question. But I think I understand the intent.

If something is “the normal,” wouldn’t it usually be “the rule” too?

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Capitol_Idea
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Capitol_Idea » Sat May 15, 2021 7:25 am

The dynamics have changed somewhat for a number of firms - there is a sustained shortage of mid-level and senior associates that historically there has not been, plus there is a ton of work.

The cold hard dynamics is that a firm will keep associates who are still profitable to them and keep gaining skills to make them more marketable, and eventually get rid of those who aren't.

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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by riot » Sat May 15, 2021 9:20 pm

right now even people who suck aren't getting asked to leave because there is such a need for warm bodies

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icechicken
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by icechicken » Wed May 19, 2021 11:08 am

Story wrote:
Sat May 15, 2021 4:15 am
The practice is actually common in this country. The military uses this system, for example. “Keep the troops lean mean fighting machines!” I suppose.
Up-or-out in the military is more for officers than for the troops, and the rationale is different—among other things, you need to constantly refresh the upper ranks so that junior officers have room to get promoted. The law-firm equivalent would be forcing older, less-productive partners into retirement.

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Nony
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Nony » Wed May 19, 2021 11:39 am

The closest to this that I know of is the tenure system in academia, which basically makes no sense to anyone outside of academia.

Story
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Story » Wed May 19, 2021 3:55 pm

icechicken wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 11:08 am
Story wrote:
Sat May 15, 2021 4:15 am
The practice is actually common in this country. The military uses this system, for example. “Keep the troops lean mean fighting machines!” I suppose.
Up-or-out in the military is more for officers than for the troops, and the rationale is different—among other things, you need to constantly refresh the upper ranks so that junior officers have room to get promoted. The law-firm equivalent would be forcing older, less-productive partners into retirement.
Not to get into a debate about the military, but Enlisted members have a similar up-or-out system too.

Just wondering: What do you think the rationale for up-or-out in law firms? How is that rationale different than the military’s?

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icechicken
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by icechicken » Wed May 19, 2021 4:27 pm

Story wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 3:55 pm
icechicken wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 11:08 am
Story wrote:
Sat May 15, 2021 4:15 am
The practice is actually common in this country. The military uses this system, for example. “Keep the troops lean mean fighting machines!” I suppose.
Up-or-out in the military is more for officers than for the troops, and the rationale is different—among other things, you need to constantly refresh the upper ranks so that junior officers have room to get promoted. The law-firm equivalent would be forcing older, less-productive partners into retirement.
Not to get into a debate about the military, but Enlisted members have a similar up-or-out system too.

Just wondering: What do you think the rationale for up-or-out in law firms? How is that rationale different than the military’s?
My sense is that biglaw up-or-out is mainly because 1) annual, guaranteed, lockstep raises are needed to attract/retain good associates but 2) you can't keep throwing that sweet midlevel comp at mediocre associates (the Mendoza line, of course, bobs up and down with the state of the economy) because it's a waste of money.

The important exception, and the reason I think biglaw is a bit different from the military in this regard, is the existence of counsel/non-equity positions which get good-but-not-great seniors off the treadmill. I believe that if a big firm could get away with paying a good-but-not-great associate $190k indefinitely, they'd certainly try, but almost nobody is willing to do that and it'd mess with recruiting (because "guaranteed big raises" are part of the pitch).

Military up-or-out, in peacetime, is mainly because if somebody were content with X rank and just kind of hung out there for two decades, they'd be standing in the way of juniors from taking on new responsibility and getting promoted. If too many people did that, then the whole org chart just gradually ages, like Congress has for the past few decades. Younger talent would leave instead of waiting 5+ years to get promoted. That's an especial problem for the military because you need a lot of people who are competent, experienced, and young enough to physically withstand combat.

Obviously, the end result is pretty similar—you're trying to slough off mediocrity to create a pyramid with competent people at the top—and the motivations overlap in a lot of ways. You're right that part of the cultural purpose is to keep people gunning for the next brass ring. But the concrete structural causes seem different to me.

Story
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Story » Wed May 19, 2021 4:33 pm

icechicken wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 4:27 pm
Story wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 3:55 pm
icechicken wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 11:08 am
Story wrote:
Sat May 15, 2021 4:15 am
The practice is actually common in this country. The military uses this system, for example. “Keep the troops lean mean fighting machines!” I suppose.
Up-or-out in the military is more for officers than for the troops, and the rationale is different—among other things, you need to constantly refresh the upper ranks so that junior officers have room to get promoted. The law-firm equivalent would be forcing older, less-productive partners into retirement.
Not to get into a debate about the military, but Enlisted members have a similar up-or-out system too.

Just wondering: What do you think the rationale for up-or-out in law firms? How is that rationale different than the military’s?
My sense is that biglaw up-or-out is mainly because 1) annual, guaranteed, lockstep raises are needed to attract/retain good associates but 2) you can't keep throwing that sweet midlevel comp at mediocre associates (the Mendoza line, of course, bobs up and down with the state of the economy) because it's a waste of money.

The important exception, and the reason I think biglaw is a bit different from the military in this regard, is the existence of counsel/non-equity positions which get good-but-not-great seniors off the treadmill. I believe that if a big firm could get away with paying a good-but-not-great associate $190k indefinitely, they'd certainly try, but almost nobody is willing to do that and it'd mess with recruiting (because "guaranteed big raises" are part of the pitch).

Military up-or-out, in peacetime, is mainly because if somebody were content with X rank and just kind of hung out there for two decades, they'd be standing in the way of juniors from taking on new responsibility and getting promoted. If too many people did that, then the whole org chart just gradually ages, like Congress has for the past few decades. Younger talent would leave instead of waiting 5+ years to get promoted. That's an especial problem for the military because you need a lot of people who are competent, experienced, and young enough to physically withstand combat.

Obviously, the end result is pretty similar—you're trying to slough off mediocrity to create a pyramid with competent people at the top—and the motivations overlap in a lot of ways. You're right that part of the cultural purpose is to keep people gunning for the next brass ring. But the concrete structural causes seem different to me.
Thanks. That’s true about concrete structural causes IMO too. The mission of a law firm and the mission of the military is so different that the reasons behind each respective “up or out” system are going to be different.

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heythatslife
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by heythatslife » Wed May 19, 2021 5:36 pm

I mean being counsel is kind of like being an O-6 for 20 years.

Story
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by Story » Fri May 21, 2021 5:45 pm

heythatslife wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 5:36 pm
I mean being counsel is kind of like being an O-6 for 20 years.
Lol, isn’t it the O-5 who doesn’t make O-6 and then retires to become a DOD GS civilian employee?

Do you all or OP think that an up-or-out system motivates lawyers to keep working hard? Is there a more effective system to achieve that goal?

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BlendedUnicorn
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Re: Is it really the normal and not the rule to be eventually asked to leave at BigLaw?

Post by BlendedUnicorn » Sat Jun 12, 2021 3:07 pm

Story wrote:
Fri May 21, 2021 5:45 pm
heythatslife wrote:
Wed May 19, 2021 5:36 pm
I mean being counsel is kind of like being an O-6 for 20 years.
Lol, isn’t it the O-5 who doesn’t make O-6 and then retires to become a DOD GS civilian employee?

Do you all or OP think that an up-or-out system motivates lawyers to keep working hard? Is there a more effective system to achieve that goal?
No. It's not like partners generally stop working hard once they make partner and aren't under threat of up or out (so much). Tying compensation to performance/origination seems like it does the trick, but also just not having a shitty work environment.

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