Wal-Mart is famous (or infamous depending on your POV) for its employees’ salaries, and now it appears the big box giant is concerned about today’s starting lawyer salary. As recently reported by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart sent a memo to its legal counsel bemoaning an increase in legal fees and pointing a finger at the starting lawyer salary of $160,000.
In the memo, Miguel Rivera Sr., associate general counsel for Wal-Mart, wrote, “The salaries that law firms choose to pay their junior associates are none of our concern." But then he added, “Based on the size and frequency of the rate increase requests that we have seen over the past three years, it appears that many of the requested increases are largely attributable to the steady, nationwide increases in junior associate salaries.”
Lawyers Salary First-Year Associates: More Memo!
Apparently Wal-Mart was so concerned about attorneys’ fees, they decided to put a halt to them, unilaterally. Their memo goes on to read: “We are today announcing a moratorium on across-the-board rate increases” (Wow, we wouldn’t we all like to place a moratorium on others’ rate increases).
“Until further notice, we will only consider reasonable, individual requests for rate increases for those attorneys in your firm who are performing at an exceptional level and whose experience and knowledge is adding substantial value towards meeting Wal-Mart’s legal objectives” (I think I hear lawyers furiously writing memos as to why they are at an exceptional level).
American Lawyer Highest Salaries, $1,000 an Hour
The Wal-Mart memo also mentions law firm partners who are charging $1,000 per hour: “It appears that the steady climb in first-year associate salaries may also be contributing to the push in larger markets for partners to break what’s been described as the ‘$1,000 per hour barrier.’” That may sound like hyperbole, but Mr. Rivera isn’t exaggerating.
WSJ.com reported earlier this year that $1,000 per hour mark is becoming more prevalent, especially with New York City firms. According to the law-firm group of Citi Private Bank, rates of large firms have increased steadily since 2000, rising an average of 6% to 7% annually.
Partner Lawyer Salaries = Major League Baseball Salary?
Mike Dillon, the general counsel of Sun Microsystems Inc., justifies the $1,000 an hour by comparing it to a major league baseball salary of $15,000 per hour. He told WSJ.com, “$1,000 for very seasoned lawyers who can solve complex problems doesn’t seem to be inappropriate.”
However, law firms say the hourly rate increases aren’t just about profit. They claim that it’s partly in response to increased costs, including first-year associate salaries, which can go up to $160,000 a year (in case you’re wondering, Wal-Mart cited the WSJ.com article in its memo).
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Dr. Al Lee