About a decade ago, many law schools were promoting somewhat misleading employment data. For example, certain law schools have listed the median starting salaries of graduates based on sample sizes that were inappropriately small, so that the statistics did not provide an accurate picture of the salaries that graduates could expect. In addition, some law schools played games on the percentage of graduates who were employed at the time of graduation and nine months after graduation, so the employment results of these schools appeared to be better than they actually were. Thankfully, legal organizations and nonprofits, including law school transparency, have helped highlight how certain law schools provide potentially misleading statistics, and this has resulted in a shift in legal education. In fact, it is now much more difficult for lawyers to falsify their employment data, and this is good for law students and applicants.
However, law firms still routinely advertise misleading employment statistics. This can affect the decisions of individuals who may apply for a position with such law firms. More efforts should be made to reduce potentially misleading statistics so that applicants can get an accurate picture of employment data in a company.
Many law firms make their employment information available to employment directories and other organizations so that people in those businesses can supposedly get a feel for salaries and other employment information. Whenever I was looking for a new job in my career, I would refer to such directories to determine if I wanted to apply to a particular company. However, the statistics advertised have rarely been accurate when compared to actual reality in many law firms.
For example, numerous law firms post their starting salaries, and some law firms post their salary range for employees of all seniority levels. This is possibly the most critical employment statistic for a candidate in a law firm as most people choose to work for one law firm or the other depending on how much money they are receiving. However, companies often do not pay the stated starting salary to many employees or do not adhere to their alleged pay scale for numerous lawyers in the firm.
For example, many law firms pay attorneys different amounts of money depending on an employee’s job. Customers who work in certain areas of activity may pay more money than others. Therefore, it makes sense for employees to receive different amounts of money depending on the nature of their job. However, law firms should at least indicate that starting salaries are different in different areas of activity so that applicants have the best information possible.
I’ve been misled at several points in my career by inaccurate employment data from law firms. For example, a few years after graduating from law school, I applied for a mass practice at a national law firm. Of course, I thought that I would get at least the advertised starting salary. In fact, the salary that was offered to me was much lower, even though I had several years of experience. I would have liked to know what the actual starting salary was for people in my situation before I started the application process.
In other law firms, the advertised starting salary only applies to lawyers who start in the firm as part of summer programs and then make progress in the firm as part of the internal promotion process. Lateral hires at a company can earn less money because the quality of their work is supposedly not as easily assessed as with lawyers who have worked for a company since the beginning of their careers. This seems reasonable, but companies should promote the complexities of determining compensation and not make people believe that a company has a lockstep compensation formula.
Another statistic that is somewhat misleading is how long it takes to become an affiliate in a business. Many companies advertise in employment directories when they are pursuing a partnership and how many years it typically takes to become an equity or non-equity partner for employees to evaluate the promotion process. However, companies rarely disclose the percentage of people who join a company and eventually leave before they can be promoted to the partnership. In addition, companies rarely advertise the number of people who will be promoted as advisors rather than partners at the end of the supposed partnership pursuit period. This is usually far more common than the appointment of a partner. Such statistics and omissions can mislead applicants about their real chances of becoming an equity or non-equity partner in a company.
There are many other ways law firms are skewing their employment numbers, and I don’t even talk about out-of-partnership employees, roles of attorneys, and other ways companies can increase their workforce while lowering costs (I may need to write an article about that in the future!). Yet law firms certainly do not provide the most accurate picture when they publish their employment statistics. Perhaps this problem isn’t as important as the trend of law schools falsifying their data years ago, but applicants to law firms and others in the legal profession should acknowledge that some law firms have misleading employment statistics.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loan. You can contact Jordan by email at [email protected]