Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr is unveiling a new compensation system designed to break away from lockstep, encourage alternative career paths and shift a larger chunk of lawyers’ pay from their base salary to their bonus, according to firm higher-ups.

The new system, unveiled Tuesday after two years of planning, will be phased in through 2012, according to William Lee, the firm’s co-managing partner, and Carol Clayton, the firm’s assistant managing partner. The crux of the change involves dividing nonpartners into several tiers and linking each of those tiers to a set base salary, Lee and Clayton say. Within those tiers, pay will vary greatly depending on individual bonuses. Those bonuses will be merit-based and will not be linked to seniority or billable hours. The goal is to pay top performers in each tier more than they would make under Wilmer’s current lockstep system, Lee says.

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