In 1933 the Federal Government began paying farmers to not grow crops, in the hopes that reducing the supply would stabilize prices and help spur recovery from the Great Depression. Today, Bryan Cave becomes the third law firm to pay lawyers not to work. Certainly the goals of the Federal Government differ from that of a big law firm, and just as certainly the effectiveness of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 can be debated, but one comparison that seems firm is that the current market can’t bear the supply. There are simply too many lawyers for too few jobs. Paying new associates to not come to work, in effect subsidizing the legal industry, is one of many ways the market is handling the situation.
In the case of Bryan Cave, new associates are being offered $70k to not work. In some cases, these lawyers are being asked to, in effect, “go away”, while others are being paid to take a deferral. It’s unclear how many of each there are at this time.
Stroock and Pillsbury have already offered first year associates money to walk away in one form or another. If more firms continue to do this, will it have a net impact on the legal economy? How many new associates would need to be subsidized in order to “correct” the market? If this becomes an industry trend, we may find out.