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Elizabeth Street
13 May, 2008  
Money, money, money

Unnecessary human misery is caused by the way law firms handle the pay question. When information about salaries starts to leak out, the despair is compounded. Sydney blogger Lizzy Street is on the front line of all the suffering. At least she has worked out that money is the root cause of happiness

imageComing from Generation Y I tend to be swayed in my job choices by what’s in it for me.

This can include perks, such as free lunch, free Friday night drinks or a company BlackBerry (mind you it is debatable if this is a perk or just a human version of a dog collar and leash).

Intangibles are also a consideration, such as good work-life balance. However, I’m yet to find a Sydney firm that does not believe a balanced life consists of 99 percent work and one percent drinking.

By far the most important motivation is money. That rush you get when seeing your account balance blossom on that special Friday every fortnight. That’s what lures me.

The other day, while rifling through a senior associates desk drawers searching for a misplaced surveillance video I came across the holy grail of office discoveries: her work contract.

Right there, on the front page, in bold, was her salary!

Sure, she is more senior than moi and earning me under the ground, but in my grasping little way I wondered how much I’d get at her level and what would life be like if we all knew everyone’s salary?

Some firms have a clause in the employment contract expressly forbidding employees to broach the hotly debated topic of salaries.

This simply results in hushed gossip around the snack machine during the mid-morning coffee stampede.

Other firms don’t insist on any such silence and so inevitably we have some loudmouth during the performance review complaining that they only got a $10,000 pay rise and are now on a piddly $90,000.

This invariably leads others of similar rank and station to be highly miffed about their otherwise acceptable $8,000 pay rise and $82,000 salary.

I have a friend who worked in a Sydney firm where there was a regrettable money scandal.

On opening the prized pay rise letter a gormless and indolent law clerk started to whine loudly.

He had only been offered an extra $5,000 and everyone knew he was not thrilled. Even less thrilled was a junior solicitor who realised that she was on the same salary as the clerk and they both received the same rise.

She was the one who worked back late and on weekends while he was pushing the down button the second the clock ticked to five.

Needless to say, she marched into the managing partner’s office and explained politely that he could shove the pay rise and the job.

I also found it rather disturbing when a friend, who recently scored a new job, said the firm wanted to know her previous salary so that they could calibrate what to offer.

Surely the offer should be based on her experience, how much they want her, need her, etc, rather than how poorly she chose her job when she was a desperate graduate?

The whole thing is rather distasteful and I suppose I could ponder my current salary indefinitely and would probably not be satisfied until I was receiving over $100,000 for just sitting about and trading on my looks and flirtatious charm.

At least I now know the minimum I should be asking when I hit senior associate – indexed of course.



Reader Comments

Posted by: Anonymous
Date: June 10, 2008, 6:23 pm

Agreed - it's all about the money. If you've made the decision to lawyer away in a corporate firm, then what other possible motivation could there be, right? That's why I never really understand, or trust, the various employee surveys that are published each year. "Work/life balance" - snore. "Career progression" - about as desirable as an extra candle on your birthday cake. It's money, money, money ... money, and BlackBerries. The surveys are just sponsored spam from the big law firms in a vain attempt to keep a lid on things.