How Will Legal Technology Impact The Move To $180K?
This post looks like a column but there’s a conversation at the very end. So, if you want to ignore my opinion and skip to the end to hear what actual legal tech experts have to say about the increase in Biglaw salaries, by all means scroll down, I won’t be offended.
Last week, in the middle of all the hubbub and hullabaloo of the Biglaw salary raise, David Lat published a post on what in-house counsels think about the nationwide move to $180K. In the article, David quotes, among others, Susan Moon who expressed concern over the sheer waste and inefficiency of paying first year associates to do work that will ultimately be checked by a senior attorney, valid criticism I suppose even under the previous salary structure.
But, as David points out, it will be years before in-house counsels are actually asked to absorb the entirety of the much ballyhooed move to $180K. At the moment, it is Biglaw partners who will absorb the increase.
But here’s where that could get messy.
Partners might be willing to share now, but some of them are expecting to make up for these losses on the back end. The growth of legal technology could make that proposition trickier than it sounds. While the technology is not all perfect or fully baked just yet, start-ups are actively developing and marketing new products utilizing cloud, open source and artificial intelligence, that will automate and cut down on many of the tasks traditionally delegated to first year attorneys. That means that, in five years, when these technologies are exponentially better and more highly commercialized, Biglaw partners will have a much harder time asking in-house counsel to sign off on an increase in hourly rates, especially for first year associates. What’s the solution? Stop hiring as many attorneys directly out of school? Give first year associates real work? Beats me. As David pointed out, it is already the case that “clients have significant leverage,” and technology will only increase that leverage.