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A black second-year associate at one of the larger law firms in Boston, now earning a whopping $125,000, worries whether anyone will pull for her during the review process, which has gotten tougher since associates began earning the big bucks. Higher salaries have created more pressure to bill hours for associates earning larger paychecks. But the latest wrinkle in this issue involves minorities, for whom the problem can be more challenging, say minority attorneys and diversity consultants. “A large part of making it in a big firm is people bringing you along, but it’s difficult when you’re not from a like background,” says the associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “With such a tiny percentage of partners being minority, the chances of having people pull for you is slimmer now that there’s this pressure.” Ever since Boston’s larger firms announced that they would pay new associates from $125,000 to $140,000 annually, associates and law firms have been dealing with how the higher salaries have affected the work-life balance of all associates. Legal observers say that the increases have changed many senior partners’ willingness to act as mentors to new associates. For minorities, a lack of training and mentoring can be a particular burden, says Verna Myers, a Newton diversity management consultant and a former executive director of The Boston Law Firm Group, an assembly of 36 firms that work to increase minority representation. “From what we’ve observed, the informal training and mentoring occurs between people who they’re comfortable with,” says Myers, adding that’s not necessarily racist behavior, but human nature. “Because there are such small numbers of people of color, those connections are hard to make. They’re caught in a structure where their best instincts do not flourish.” The second-year associate, who is working 12 to 14 hours a day, adds, “A lot of the training is informal, where you might get pulled into someone’s office to learn something new, but if you don’t have a partner to connect to, you’re not going to learn it.” Jin-Kyung Kim, a former partner at Boston’s Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault and now a consultant with Myers, agrees that higher salaries may have an adverse effect on minorities. By raising the rates, it limits the type of client that can afford to use that firm,” Kim says. “In our work, we have seen that people of color are more interested in working with businesses in their community that might not be able to afford the rates.” The impact of higher salaries has not been felt just among minorities. Other associates feel pressure to justify a big salary, considering their experience. A second-year associate earning $135,000 at a different Boston firm says that once the higher salaries kicked in, the 1,850 billable-hour minimum for associates became more of a “benchmark.” “Now, the litigation coordinator checks on our hours,” says the associate, who works several 12-hour days each week. “It’s made me more cognizant about being more efficient. Before, I wasn’t thinking about the hours; now, at the end of the day I tabulate my hours.” Another area of the legal profession that may be affected by higher salaries is pro bono work. Meg Connolly, executive director of the Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project, says agencies that offer pro bono services have not been hurt by the higher associates salaries but fear a change for the worse. Agencies anticipate difficulty in recruiting lawyers for staff positions because of their inability to compete monetarily, she says. “At some point, the gap gets too great,” Connolly says. There is also a fear that fewer lawyers will volunteer because they won’t have the time outside the office, she says. “The salaries are so out of whack with the rest of the profession that it sends a terrible message,” Connolly says. “It’s all about the money.”

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