Sanford Heisler raises salaries while lowering hour requirements

3 minute read

Signage is seen on the doorway of the legal firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Law firm reduces hour requirement for attorneys to 1,920 a year while boosting salaries by $10,000
  • Goal is to make firm competitive with government, defense jobs

(Reuters) - Sanford Heisler Sharp has told its attorneys that it's reducing the minimum number of hours they need to work per year, while at the same time increasing salaries by $10,000.

The firm’s attorneys will be expected to work 1,920 hours a year, or 160 hours a month, down from the firm’s previous minimum of 2,160, according to a note firm leadership sent to employees over the weekend that Reuters reviewed. That total includes both billable hours, which are submitted to courts to advocate for the firm’s fees if they win a case, and professional development and administrative time, according to Sanford Heisler.

It’s part of a two-year plan to reduce attorney workloads and was announced at the same time the firm implemented a $10,000 raise across the board.

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“We know you could be making a higher base salary working on the defense side; we also know you could be working fewer hours in the government,” the note said.

David Sanford, chairman and co-founder of Sanford Heisler, which focuses on plaintiffs' side employment disputes, told Reuters the idea was to bring his firm closer to government work in terms of hours and closer to defense side work in terms of pay. He first started looking into reducing attorney workload when he saw, during a review of the firm's salaries and hours, that the average number of hours Sanford Heisler attorneys were working was more than 2,400 a year, he said.

Sanford Heisler, with about 50 lawyers, is not alone in adjusting its hours and salary expectations. Amid associate salary hikes that many big law firms announced over the summer, Crowell & Moring, for example, set its base compensation for incoming associates and counsel who billed at least 2,000 hours starting at $205,000, while a 1,900 billable hour track had a base salary scale starting at $185,000.

According to the Thomson Reuters Institute and the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center, by the end of 2020 attorneys practicing at the nation's 100 highest-grossing law firms were working an average of more than six billable hours per day, or nearly 185 every 30 workdays.

Although Sanford Heisler has set a minimum number of hours for its attorneys since it opened in 2004, Sanford told the attorneys he would hire more people and gradually work to lessen their load.

The pandemic and the sudden shift to working from home provided the push to drop the total hours to 1920, he said.

“People can be more efficient working from home,” Sanford said. “With that efficiency, there also should be a reduction in hours, ideally.”

Sanford Heisler has made headlines suing some major law firms on behalf of women and minority attorneys who say they were passed over for promotions and denied equal pay.

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