What's the difference b/w Staff Attorney vs. Associate?

Type of work? Salary?Guest04/01/08
Where to begin... "Associate" is generally what everyone Guest04/01/08
Sorry poster - staff attorneys came from the explosion of elGuest04/01/08
WEMED: Read the NYT article. There was no e-discovery back iGuest04/01/08
poster - I read the article, fairly boring, nice to see Ira Guest04/01/08
prestige, money, dignitytdawg02/24/12
Associates do the substantive work, staff attorneys various digitalserf02/24/12
Staff attorney is also another way to say part-time attorneyTheClient02/24/12
That is not true where I work and in NYC in general. Many wdigitalserf02/24/12
The same difference as between a plantation overseer and a pphillybum02/24/12
"Your name is Toby, Esq!"OhioDocReviewer02/24/12
It varies depending on the firm. A lot of firms will hire stgribble02/24/12
It depends where you work. There are also staff associates digitalserf02/24/12
Gribble is spot on. While staff attorney positions are geTTTheaven02/24/12
^ This. There is no longer job security in Big Law.mordecai02/24/12
There never was. Getting rid of associates between years 3-7CattleProd02/24/12



Guest (Apr 1, 2008 - 2:49 pm)

Type of work?
Salary?

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Guest (Apr 1, 2008 - 2:49 pm)

Where to begin...

"Associate" is generally what everyone strives to become when they go to law school. No one, at least at the beginning, ever wants to become a "Staff Attorney."

The technical difference is that "Associates" are partnership-track positions. In other words, if you get a job at a firm as an associate and work very hard, you have a chance of becoming a partner within seven to ten years. "Staff Attorneys" are non-partnership track positions. This means that they are explicitly told at the time of hire that they are never eligible to become a partner.

It looks like the position evolved as a consequence of the "corporatization" of the "practice of law." In practical and basic terms, this means that the firms find that they have lots of work to do, but that some portion of this work does not justify extremely high billing rates. As a result, the firms started "staff attorney" programs as early as 1985. The staff attorneys do the very basic legal work and are subsequently billed out at a lower rate than a first year associate.

Generally, the grads from T14 schools and others with very high class ranks are hired as "Associates" and paid the $160k "market" rate. These are the positions that people talk about in law school and for which the firms do on-campus interviews.

If you did not attend a prestigious school, or had poor grades (or a list of other factors), a firm may hire you as a "Staff Attorney." I had never even heard of this position until I had already been out of school for a while, and firms never recruit on-campus for these positions. The starting pay for this position varies, and usually ranges between $70k and $100k. However, one usually needs some legal experience before a firm will hire you for this position. Usually, this experience consists of at least 6 months of experience as a Contract Attorney (a/k/a doc review).

I will write more later, if you have more questions. I have to run now.

1987 article about Staff Attorneys:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0DE1D7143BF932A25750C0A961948260

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Guest (Apr 1, 2008 - 2:49 pm)

Sorry poster - staff attorneys came from the explosion of electronically stored information including e-mail. Every deal, every litigation, every SEC or DOJ inquiry now involved tons of information which had to processed, and it was too time consuming for associates.

But associates are still assigned the work to the extent the firms can get away with it.

And not all associates are partnership track. You can be an associate and there is no way you will ever be partner - of counsel at best, and that is made clear. In fact, at my firm, only 1/4 the associates are considered on a partnership track.

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Guest (Apr 1, 2008 - 2:49 pm)

WEMED: Read the NYT article. There was no e-discovery back in 1985. For that matter, there was no email. I suspect that BigLaw did not even use computers back then. Yet, the firms still employed staff attys. I will agree, though, that e-discovery is what has led to the increased growth in such positions in the last ten years.

I will agree with your other points. At my firm, the junior and mid-level associates are still doing plenty of mundane work, which includes LOTS of document review. They do what I would refer to as advanced doc rev. They review docs that have already been reviewed before by the staff attys that gathered and vetted the documents before sending to the associate. Then the associate reviews the documents and decides what should be sent to the partner.

I also agree with everything that you said about the fact that not all associates are on the partnership track. My definition was meant to be general in nature, and in relation to newly minted JDs. A first year associate is technically on partnership track the day he or she is hired and the first day that he or she walks into office. Obviously, anything can happen to that first-year associate after that first day. However, by contrast, a staff atty is told that he or she is NOT on partnership track on the date of hire.

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Guest (Apr 1, 2008 - 2:49 pm)

poster - I read the article, fairly boring, nice to see Ira at Weill got a mention - the widespread use of computers and spreadsheets hit in the mid-80s.

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tdawg (Feb 24, 2012 - 5:34 am)

prestige, money, dignity

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digitalserf (Feb 24, 2012 - 6:06 am)

Associates do the substantive work, staff attorneys various projects to support the associates. The Associates are real employees, whereas most staff attorneys are glorified temps.

Associates are technically "partner track" and work more intimately with the firm's internal staff. Every firm is a little different, in how they structure staff attorney programs. But staff attorneys generally do the doc review, dep prep and other secondary litigation tasks.

The salary is dramatically less than an associate, but better than shitlaw.

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TheClient (Feb 24, 2012 - 9:19 am)

Staff attorney is also another way to say part-time attorney. All of the staff attorneys I know are older and only want to work part-time.

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digitalserf (Feb 24, 2012 - 9:29 am)

That is not true where I work and in NYC in general. Many work 60 plus hours per week. Staff attorney is what each firm makes of it, rather than a universal definition.

They are full time workers, with some benefits, but less than the general staff.

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phillybum (Feb 24, 2012 - 9:53 am)

The same difference as between a plantation overseer and a plantation slave.

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OhioDocReviewer (Feb 24, 2012 - 4:39 pm)

"Your name is Toby, Esq!"

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gribble (Feb 24, 2012 - 11:14 am)

It varies depending on the firm. A lot of firms will hire staff attorneys on contract, for a year or two although I believe they can cut them or renew those contracts. Usually they will let the contract finish afaik. Most of the time they're hired for major litigation projects and work on just that project.

Most Associates are not on a partnership track and in fact there are two associate tracks nowadays usually. One where you have no shot at partner and the other where you have little to no shot at partner.

Of Counsel Attorneys are generally the ones that handle more substantive work but aren't really Associates either. Of Counsel are more like freelance at major firms, they are kind of Partner level but not really. They are usually a clear notch above Associates, but they're not exactly employees either.

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digitalserf (Feb 24, 2012 - 3:50 pm)

It depends where you work. There are also staff associates (npt). It all depends, every firm seems to have their own program.

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TTTheaven (Feb 24, 2012 - 11:36 am)

Gribble is spot on.

While staff attorney positions are generally classified as nonpartnership-track positions, they vary greatly depending on the firm. At some places, they are treated like shit by associates and are considered nothing more than full-time coders.

At others, they are treated very well. I know a guy who is a staff attorney at a very prominent firm in Chicago (he was an associate at another firm and got laid off during the 2008 massacre). His official job is to manage document review projects with outside doc review companies the firm uses. But he is also allowed to do pro bono work. So he manages doc review, picks pro bono cases in areas/causes the interest him and gets great substantive experience, and he makes north of $100K a year. And his billable requirement is not as much as associates. Not a bad place to be.

If you're not obsessed with title or concerned with your place on the totem pole, staff attorney positions can be a good gig in the right setting.

For job security, unless your name is on the firm letterhead or you have a huge book of business, your job is never really secure.

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mordecai (Feb 24, 2012 - 2:24 pm)

^ This. There is no longer job security in Big Law.

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CattleProd (Feb 24, 2012 - 4:30 pm)

There never was. Getting rid of associates between years 3-7 has long been the practice in Big Law. 80%+ of all associates are never going to make partner. That percentage is getting tougher in recent years.

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