The 40-hour associates

After the scramble to offer the highest entry salary, in spring 2017 firms were falling over themselves with ideas for alternative working time models: Linklaters offered new graduates a fixed working time of 40 hours per week. At McDermott Will & Emery, contracts were even signed with a weekly working time of just 35 hours. Is this finally a new strategy in the fight for the best young lawyers? Or even a magic bullet? Only to a limited degree.

In German commercial law firms, nine to five is (still) a concept as exotic as a robot colleague. Although the beginnings of both of these are evident, such suggestions are still met with unease and skepticism. The average working time for associates in Germany, according to the azur surveys, has been more than 54 hours a week for years.

So far only a few firms have attempted to approach the competition for graduates with offers based on working hours. Baker & McKenzie was one of the pioneers in 2014. Today, the firm employs just under ten percent of its associates with a fixed number of hours and a reduced starting salary. McDermott Will & Emery also takes a different approach, offering a maximum of €75,000 for a 35- to 38.5-hour week – a salary comparable to those in legal departments. New graduates without a fixed hourly limit earn up to €125,000.

Competition is indeed tough: according to an azur survey of 150 law firms, these alone wanted to hire 2,000 fully qualified lawyers in 2017, a number similar to the previous year. There are only around 1,600 top-class graduates available. And of these, some hope to go into public service or to companies.

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