I am the owner of a seven attorney litigation boutique firm in New York City. I am the only equity owner and the other six attorneys are associates. Currently all of the associates are paid a straight salary with raises given every year. I am considering freezing their salaries at current levels and putting in place an incentive bonus for individual revenue generation above a certain number. I am concerned that this approach might create an eat-what-you-kill mentality and destroy teamwork in the firm. Do you have any thoughts?
I concur with an approach that ties compensation to individual performance such as working attorney collected fee generation up to a point. You are right that this could create more of an individualistic attitude and may spur internal competition which may not be all bad. However, since there are other aspects of firm contribution other than working attorney collections you might want to add a goal bonus component that outlines specific goals that are important to the firm and specifies specific dollars or percentage of salary for each goal with a maximum attainable per year. These goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and on an agreed timeline.
A goal bonus component will reward other non-financial contributions and serve as the glue that will minimize the potential for creating an eat-what-you-kill environment.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC