In 1729 Jonathan Swift proposed that Ireland’s poor eat their young to prevent them from becoming a burden. The reaction to his satirical essay — unsurprisingly — was shock, disbelief and bemusement. This is not unlike the typical reaction I get from law firms to a far more modest but serious suggestion.

The proposal: Abandon the lockstep compensation approach toward associate pay in favor of a system that aligns pay with the performance of the individual associate and the firm, and significantly shifts the bulk of total compensation to this variable component. A performance-based pay structure would go a long way toward helping firms keep top legal talent, and it would serve firms better financially.

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