Kill list, or just a bill list?

Lawyers in Sidley’s London office have been hit with pay and promotion freezes. 

48 hours before they expected to get their annual PQE-linked promotion and pay rise, a “double-digit” number of associates who had not recorded more than 1,000 hours of fee-earning work in the past year were told they weren't getting either.

Last week RollOnFriday reported on claims that Sidley had scrapped its WFH policy at the behest of a group of partners who recently came across from rival US firm Paul Weiss. Now sources have accused the newcomers of being responsible for getting lawyers' pay and promotions frozen as well.

It was “the first time it’s ever been a policy at Sidley” claimed a source, who was convinced that the orders “clearly came from the Paul Weiss folks”.

Pre-empting the query, 'How can any associate at a US firm hope even to remain employed on billing under 1,000 hours a year unless they call the Managing Partner ‘dad’?', the insider told ROF the lower hours were due to “market slowdown and some partners not generating enough”, and insisted “there's no performance or competence issues”.

A source close to management denied that the freeze was a new policy, saying that measures taken this year were the same as those taken in previous years.

"The arrival of the partners from Paul Weiss has not impacted on any of the firm's policies or procedures", they said.

The freeze has “resulted in a lot of unhappy associates” said a source, who claimed that their “reputation internally is ruined” after management sent around a group chart “which clearly indicated who had been held back”. 

The insider also claimed that the new partners held a series of group drinks at which they pulled out a chart displaying the London office’s corporate group structure, and asked small groups of lawyers “to point out those associates and partners we thought weren't good enough to be in the new PW-style corporate team”. 

There was “zero appreciation that these were our friends and colleagues, and that we knew they were doing this to every group”, they said.

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Tip Off ROF


USA USA 22 September 23 07:54

If you were getting a healthy six figures on sub-1000 hours, the PW partners would have been right to slice and dice. Gotta pay to play.

N 22 September 23 07:55

Is the market starting to realise that the majority of us firms provide JLR quality at Pigani prices? 

Lol 22 September 23 08:03

Any Sidley associate who billed sub 1,000 and is annoyed by the lack of pay rise and bonus needs to take a good hard look at themselves (and probably line up a chinny)

Anon 22 September 23 08:09

It’s really simple.  There is something called the free market.  If you are unhappy where you are currently working, you can leave.  Don’t whine.  Just leave.  

Blessing in disguise 22 September 23 08:15

I would much rather scrape 1000 hours per year than sweat my nuts off for a bonus that gets immediately taxed at 50%.

Anonymous 22 September 23 08:16

Even your run-of-the-mill regional firm expects 1,350+ hours. Anyone doing less than 1,000 at a US firm should be counting their blessings that they haven’t been made redundant already. 

Anonymous 22 September 23 08:29

Jones Day required me to record 2000 hours chargeable - c. 10 hours per working day. Not sustainable or reasonable.

@08:29 22 September 23 09:07

Your maths is way off.

Accounting for weekends / holiday, there are about 250 working days in the year. 2,000 is 8 solid per day (but if only it were that simple) 

Quiet Associate 22 September 23 09:23

Whilst I can understand the "no hours no pay" sentiment I think it is more complicated than that.

I work in a niche litigation firm and have had years where I have billed 1800+ hours and years where I have billed sub-1000 hours. There has been no change in my availability or ability (except being more experienced) year-on-year and the ups and downs are entirely due to the nature of litigation (disputes settle) and partners winning or not winning work. 

In my opinion, whether or not your earnings are heavily linked to workload is the difference between being an employee or self-employed. As an employee you generally expect certainty of income and protection from quiet periods is countered by the fact you don't get a massive share of profits during busy periods. Conversely, partners expect the large profits when it's busy and should be expected to shoulder the drops when it's quieter. This smacks of partners wanting it both ways.

Similarly, this is concerning from a client care perspective. Fee earners are incentivised to take longer than necessary on tasks and attend every single call on a matter even if their attendance adds nothing to the matter more than a few thousand extra on the bill.

Personally, I'd leave and go to a firm that has the work rather than one punishes fee earners for a partner's inability to generate it.

Anonymous 22 September 23 10:06

How does one get one of these six-figure roles with chargeable hours targets of 1000h/p/a?

Asking for a friend. And anyone else working at any other commercial law firm. 

Well 22 September 23 10:41

Surely anyone below 4PQE is not responsible for how many hours they bill? If the work isn't there, that is on the rainmakers, not on the associates. Nonsense and unfair.

Anonymous 22 September 23 11:25

The entitlement is real 

You don't get a pay rise if you don't work ffs 

At US firms the top performers are doing 2.5k+ a year and they deserve the pay rises 

Not some entitled associate doing less than 1k a year

Even at the smallest high street firm you'd be worried about your job if you were doing less than 1k so at US firms you should be grateful you ain't getting sacked 

papercuts 22 September 23 13:25

"management sent around a group chart “which clearly indicated who had been held back”. 


Billing targets is one thing, but surely a matter between fee earner concerned and dept head.  

But public humiliations, a la sales chart pinned to notice board in time-shares selling company?

Ye gods.  What a cunch of bunts.

Bald HL Partner 22 September 23 13:39

I never work more than 1000 hours a year but that’s not what my time sheet says. Hehehe. All my associates are overpaid by the way. 

Yikes 22 September 23 16:07

Oh dear. Next thing we are going to hear about redundancies (god forbid). There are already whispers in the market about a certain US giant in London making associates redundant…

Interesting 22 September 23 16:20

Interesting. Maybe the firm was scoring so high on the ROF survey because it was a more “chill” environment compared to the rest of the US firms? Seems the PW folks are cracking the whip.

Grim Reaper 22 September 23 16:25

@08:29 22 September 23 09:07 - firstly, no there are about 227 working days in the year after bank and annual leave (52*5-8-25), and it rounds out to an average of 9 billable a day, but you'd have to do about 10 anyway, with an hour for admin, non-billable, time entry etc. I'm not even the person you're responding to, but you're such a know it all jackass, I was compelled to respond.

Secondly, the real story is double digit folks aren't doing 1k hours at a US firm, and the article's author plainly knows it, going in for a Daily Mail esque wind up title about the entitled associates. As a comment noted last week, Sidley is widely known as the most "doss" firm in the citeh. I don't know why. I don't know how people get away with it. I mean, good for them. But the question is just why the US hasn't done anything about it. By all accounts (see the RoF survey on them) they're a happy collegiate bunch earning lots of money, but not doing much. Not to say they're incapable or incompetent, but the partners aren't generating work I guess, and yet the associates aren't culled. At Kirkland, they'd cut 90% of them, and have each remaining associate covering the workload of five associates until they burn out or make a mistake due to stress, and resign or are fired.


Anon 22 September 23 16:37

Meanwhile, Linklaters is firing 30 people in Hong Kong and other Asian offices. Why is this not reported? It’s on the mainstream legal sites

Anonymous 22 September 23 16:51

Sounds like not enough work to go around so those under the 1000 are def looking dodgy.

Not just the billing but also the swilling 23 September 23 11:13

These flat one dimensional policies which determine merit based on pure time recording are antiquated, narrow minded and can be hugely unfair.

If associates are given work and they haven’t been able to do it without good reason, that’s one thing. But if the rain makers or partners aren’t able to channel enough to the associate, then it’s the partnership that needs cutting.

And what of the hours spent on non-chargeable crap mandated by the firm and the obligatory networking and business generating activities? Credit must be given to some of this - otherwise, the entire system is stacked.. partners can just send all the non chargeable bullshit to associates they don’t like in order to flatten their promotion and payrise chances…

Hardly a fair system at all?  

Boston PI lawyer 23 September 23 22:45

Meanwhile in Boston, Boston PI lawyer with ZERO prestige settled 5 small PI cases and got $113k in fees. 


Own. Don't rely on someone else to decide your compensation. 

Grey Chest Hair 24 September 23 05:23

Also if double digit associates are doing less than 1k, then you'd expect plenty more, if not the majority, to be substantially less than 2k. What about the people with 1.1k? They're fine and get promoted. 1.3k. 1.5k. Meanwhile over the road people earning half their salary are doing 1.6-1.9.

Timesheet monster 24 September 23 10:47

I work at an international firm that pays substantially less than Sidley. Policy is no pay rise or bonus if you record less than 1,500 hours a year. No public humiliations that I’m aware of though 

JRP 26 September 23 13:13

"Jones Day required me to record 2000 hours chargeable - c. 10 hours per working day. Not sustainable or reasonable."

Very easy to record 2000 hours on one of those juicy American matters that keeps London afloat. 

Silent Sam 26 September 23 15:35

Size of your hours log doesn't matter, it's how you use those hours. Everyone flexing their 2000 hours like a badge of honour. Let me tell you something. It's not just about how long you work. The length doesn't do much. It's more about the fullness of those hours, and what you get done in that time. Don't get me wrong. Nothing wrong with a hard pounding on the hours. But you don't need really long stints. Long slow boring stints, no thanks.

It's the 80/20 principle as well - most of the effects are felt at and around the 20% mark, you just have to make sure you're stimulating that 20%, however you want to do it, rather than going aimlessly after 100%. Assess the reaction you get as you go. Positive sounds, keep going. Communicate guys! If you really need things to be a little longer, you can also get away with all kinds of padding nowadays, although this is obviously a sensitive subject.




Realist 27 September 23 08:44

The truth is Sidley is and will always be a mediocre firm. The firm lacks direction and is filled with subpar partners and senior associates. 

I heard you billed 1350 with a 70% recovery on panel rates 28 September 23 14:31

ahahahaahahahaha wtaf is this ahaha - why do the teams and jobs even exist if they are billing under 1000 hours 

Cynical Bastard 28 September 23 17:15

The associates need to get real tbh.

They're already paid an insane salary for doing mostly mediocre work at inflated prices, and if they're not billing more than 1000 hours, they should just be glad to be keeping their job, because the firm will barely be breaking even on them.

Plenty of US firms are already starting the process of quietly cutting staff, and most of the others will be following soon enough. The quid pro quo of taking a job at which you are massively overpaid in a hot market is that you have a fair chance of being dropped the moment the downturn hits. Sucks, but everyone went in with their eyes wide open.

Anyone on a US salary who still has a job should be thanking their lucky stars (and checking their savings balance).

W&C Senior Associate 28 September 23 19:49

I rather get the sense that many at Sidley can’t really be bothered to put in the hard graft.

To those of us who put in double the hours, the former Paul, Weiss team is right to demand proper work for proper pay. Why should you be entitled to a promotion and bonus if you haven’t fully committed to your work? 

If I were in management, I would fire any associate who cannot deliver 1900+ hours for cause - save those who have legitimate reasons for not completing the full hours. 


Free Agent Limo 29 September 23 07:17

"nowadays"? Padding has always been part of the business model of this tin pot industry.

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