But earlier today, we stumbled on an idea for cutting costs that could ultimately make everyone at a law firm . . . happier. Two words: partner sabbaticals.
That’s right, just like in academia, partners could take a year off at reduced pay after a number of years of practice. We know some law firms already do this, but we suggest that all the big firms make such a policy mandatory. The firms would save money year after year, and avoid having to reduce the partnership ranks in difficult times. Plus, wouldn’t it make BigLaw a bit more attractive to associates? What’s the old saying? That making partner is like a pie-eating contest in which the reward is more pie? Now, you’d have more pie plus a guaranteed year of absolutely no friggin’ pie at all.
We’re riffing here, making as if this was our own thought. But, alas, it came from a nice blog post over at Concurring Opinions by GW Law Professor Larry Cunningham.
Cunningham, who once toiled at Cravath, elegantly lays out the sabbatical. First, some background, courtesy of Cunningham:
Before the 1970s, this characteristic feature of academic life was a staple at law firms too. Since then, however, as the US practice of law changed from a professional calling to a business enterprise, the sabbatical faded. The dog eat dog world of contemporary law practice made such a policy unappealing at most firms. Partners worry they’ll lose their books of business and cede ground to their intensely competitive partners for leadership and remuneration within the firm. They are concerned that clients will drop them in favor of other partners or other firms.
That said, continues Cunningham:
Partner sabbaticals could be a more appealing way to strike that balance than the delicate dance of managing the size and cost of the newer professional rung.
. . .
The current environment provides an auspicious time to adopt policies simultaneously addressing all these concerns. The policy should be mandatory, offer half pay or less, require designated classes of service activity, and have mandatory programs for partners to cover for those on sabbatical.