Emily, I agree with you that the new study by sociologists Jean Wallace and Marisa Young raises more questions than it answers. In addition to the gender split, I think we're starting to see fissures emerge in the big law firm model which are eventually going to reverberate through the profession and change the way firms do business. A few changes on the horizon:
- Billable rates and productivity . Carolyn is right about billable hours and productivity -- they don't quite equal each other. However, for services firms (like law firms and consulting shops), billable hours do translate into profitability. Still, they do so in an inefficient manner, and that's leading many law firms and corporate clients to negotiate "flat rate" billing or other arrangements. I think these practices will spread.
- Class rank or merit rank? Most law firms promote associates the way schools do -- in lockstep, from one grade to the next, almost regardless of performance. You have to really do something wrong to get held back. However, some firms (including mine) are following the business world by moving towards a merit-based promotion and compensation system wrapped around sets of "core competencies." Will other law firms follow?
- Flexible work. In survey after survey, associates (and law students) say they want quality of life. But they also want more money. Something's got to give.
- Outsourcing to Cheaper Locations.