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Book Review

Everything You Need to Know About Modern Attorney Compensation Plans

By Alexandra Davis

Whether you’re a small law firm owner or a BigLaw associate, this timely book contains all you need to know about attorney compensation in 2023 and beyond.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: An Insight to Attorney Compensation Plans” is a seminal guide to attorney compensation for the evolving, future-minded lawyer. Written by Brenda Barnes and Camille Stell, the book pours out the authors’ combined decades of wisdom and practical experience on attorney compensation in nine compact chapters. 

A Grounded Guide to Compensation

From associate and managing partner compensation to biases, trends, and formulas, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” shares equal parts theory and practical application. It reads less like a dusty textbook and more like a fresh, grounded guide for the modern lawyer. Barnes and Stell’s advice is both timeless and cutting-edge; both aspirational and practical. 

Yet what makes the book stand out from other texts on attorney comp is its overarching focus: a workable compensation plan is simply not just about salary and bonus structure. It is truly a long game. And the very best compensation plans are about far more than just the dollars: they’re focused on treating employees as real people worth investing in.

This excerpt from one of the book’s introductory chapters sets the reader’s expectations from the start:

“It’s time to shift your focus.

“How do you protect this law firm that you invested in, sweated for, and labored over? How do you preserve its financial value and reputational legacy? And continue to recruit and retain the best talent?

“The answer to all of these questions is a more modern compensation plan. And this book will help you create one.”

Compensation as a Human Issue: A Clarion Call to Lawyers

In a workforce reshaped by the pandemic and now teeming with millennial and, soon, Gen Z workers, talent retention involves incentives beyond salary and bonuses. From additional PTO to a built-in personal wellness program, Stell and Barnes recommend a range of practical options for law firm owners and hiring managers struggling to retain committed employees. 

Rather than bemoan the way the workforce has changed or insist that attorneys stay rooted in traditional mores, Stell and Barnes challenge attorneys to bend to these changes. Their book shows how giving the new generation of workers what they want can help to increase profitability and satisfaction for the entire organization.

In Chapter 8, which focuses on trends in attorney compensation, the authors explain:

If you see signs of distress among your employees, provide help. Decision-making can be extremely difficult when our minds and bodies are exhausted. Make sure that deadlines are noted and check in frequently to keep projects on track. Determine whether your teammates need outside assistance. Bring in wellness speakers and assist employees in accessing their insurance-provided or bar-related resources. Encourage employees to use their time-off benefits or add mental health days to your benefit package.

This focus on the employee as a whole person rather than a revenue generator is refreshing: a take that our often change-resistant industry desperately needs.

An Avenue to Equity

Additionally, Stell and Barnes are unafraid to challenge the inherent biases in our traditional compensation systems. They devote the final chapter of the book to combatting these systemic inequities, from racial and gender discrimination to the various biases that continue to disenfranchise particular groups. 

A compensation system can be a vehicle for increasing equity and recognition of the dignity of every person in an organization, and on the flip side, it can perpetuate entrenched mores that disempower and disenfranchise. The book emphasizes that a feasible long-term compensation plan is about more than just formulas: it’s about whole people.

Overall, this is a book worth reading and keeping as a guide to building human-centered, practical, sustainable comp models for your organization now and for years to come.

Insight to Attorney Compensation Plans

RESPECT: An Insight to Attorney Compensation Plans

By Brenda Barnes of B2 Management and Consulting and Camille Stell of Lawyers Mutual Consulting

A primer on attorney compensation trends and best practices for small to midsized law firms.

Learn more at lawofficemanagementbooks.com or purchase on Amazon or your favorite bookstore.

Image © Unsplash+ with Sandra Seitamaa

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Categories: Attorney Compensation, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published June 12, 2023
Last updated July 28, 2023
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Alexandra Davis Alexandra Davis

Alexandra Davis is an attorney and legal industry ghostwriter based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has ghostwritten and edited articles, eBooks, whitepapers, and memoirs for legal industry leaders and is the founder of Davis Legal Media, a content strategy service for the legal industry.

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