BigLaw Partners Now Must Prove They Worked 7-Hour Days

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 15, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a rite of passage for thousands of lawyers: pulling 10- to 12-hour days slaving away as an associate attorney, being woken up at 2 a.m. with questions about some urgent matter, going weeks without taking a day off. But the BigLaw life isn't the same up top, where plenty of partners can still pull in hefty sums while fitting in plenty of time on the golf course.

Indeed, apparently the partner life has gotten so relaxed over at DLA Piper, the world's third biggest firm, that partners are now required to submit daily time sheets, proving that they've worked at least seven-and-a-half hours a day.

Not Even a Full Work Day

Concerned about "delinquent behavior" and seeking to "improve productivity," DLA Piper has instituted some changes to its long-running "red card" system to include equity partners.According to the British website The Lawyer, the firm will issue cards to partners who don't bill enough hours, a minimum of 7.5 a day. Those red cards could result in partners having "their quarterly profit drawings withheld."

Now, we're not sure how much partners at DLA Piper make on average. But associates in DLA Piper's NYC offices make a base compensation of between $180,000 and $325,000 since the firm upped its salaries this summer, so you can imagine that partner pay is a few orders of magnitude larger.

For that money, we'd think partners could at least pull a full 9-to-5. And no, that's not 7.5 billable hours, that's just 7.5 hours of general work DLA Piper is demanding.

The change probably won't see too many partners taking home a smaller paycheck, though. DLA Piper's COO, Andrew Darwin, told The Lawyer that "you have to be pretty delinquent to fall foul" or the new time requirements.

Lazy Partners or Just Clear Expectations?

The firm is being quiet about what exactly caused the change, but that hasn't kept others from wondering. Bloomberg's Casey Sullivan (no relation) tracked down legal recruiters and consultants to get their take. Here's Dan Binstock, a legal recruiter in D.C., on the firm's possible reasoning:

My question is what type of behavior are they trying to fix, because a policy like this is usually brought on due to unproductive behavior that needs to be addressed. While this is unusual, if there are segments of partners who are not carrying their own weight and coasting, this policy is definitively a firm kick in the rear.

Kent Zimmerman, a consultant to large firms, puts a brighter spin on the firm's move. Large firms often "do not clearly communicate their expectations and what they mean for partners," Zimmerman tells Bloomberg. DLA, at least, "made them clear as day."

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