Associate Bonus Watch 2007, Biglaw, Bonuses, Litigatrix, Partner Profits, Susan Estrich

News that Quinn Emanuel Associates Are Sure To Love

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver Hedges associate salary Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgSome associates at Quinn Emanuel are a tad grumpy these days. But here are three items to cheer them up:
1. Profits per partner clear $3 million. As we previously reported in these pages, some QE associates were rather unhappy with their bonuses. But look on the bright side: stingy bonuses mean more money once you make partner.
As reported by Zusha Elinson in the Recorder:

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges continued its screaming ascent in 2007 with financial results that should put a scare into the most profitable New York firms.

The Los Angeles-based litigation shop reported that profits per partner hit the $3 million mark last year — a height surpassed by only three firms on the Am Law 100 list for 2006.

“That’s Wachtell country,” said Ronald Beard, a law firm consultant with the Zeughauser Group, referring to the highly profitable New York deal shop Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Managing partner John Quinn offered a rebuttal to the bonus complaints:

The financial results didn’t prevent some associates from complaining about their bonuses. Legal blog Above the Law reported griping that the firm unexpectedly drew the line for full year-end bonuses at 2,100 hours, 100 hours more than the previous year.

Quinn said that decisions about bonuses are made at the end of the year, not beforehand, and that 2,100 was “not necessarily” a bright line. He added that Quinn associates were given a special bonus this year on top of the normal ones, matching a move made by only a few elite New York firms.

“If [Quinn associates] are not the most highly paid, they’re among the most highly paid in the country,” Quinn said. “Any suggestion that the firm has done really, really well and the associates haven’t shared is false.”

We have a rebuttal to the rebuttal from a disgruntled associate. Check it out — but caveat lector, this tipster may have an ax to grind — after the jump.
Update: Note the many defenders of the firm in the comments. Not all associates are whiny bee-atches!
2. Susan Estrich is in da house. Quinn seems to have a weakness for high-powered litigatrices. Already home to former Stanford Law dean Kathleen Sullivan, the firm just added Susan Estrich, who joins as Of Counsel in the Los Angeles office. From one associate:

Susan Estrich just joined our firm. Classic.

Now when I watch Fox News at home, I’ll hear plugs of work.

3. Retention bonuses: We’re looking into reports of retention bonuses in the high five-figures, which vest in 18 months. In light of the dissatisfaction in the ranks, retention bonuses may be just what the doctor ordered.
Quinn Partner Profits Clear $3 Million [The Recorder via]
Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch: A Few More Updates

Here’s a response to the comments from managing partner John Quinn, from a Quinn Emanuel associate who joined the firm as a lateral. The opinions expressed are just those of our correspondent, of course.

The comment in the article from from John Quinn stating that “Any suggestion that the firm has done really, really well and the associates haven’t shared” is patently false, which was apparent after hearing comments at an associates’ meeting last night….

Of course decisions about bonuses are made at the end of the year – that’s true at any law firm. However, decisions about the hurdles associates have to jump to GET those bonuses should NOT be made at the end of the year – they should be laid out, up front, transparently and openly, so that everyone knows what they’re striving for. After Quinn’s message at the last “State of the Firm” address last January, people made the (not unreasonable) assumption that if they hit 2000, they were “safe.” To screw associates who hit between 2000 and 2100 without announcing the increased expectation in advance is unconscionable.

As for the “special bonus” – well, laterals were fu**** on that one. The email from John Quinn said it would be paid to anyone “on track” to bill 1900 hours in calendar year 2007. And the firm’s fiscal year is January 1 – December 31. So anyone who was “on track” to bill that number got the bonus, right? Hah. [Update: One commenter disputes this: “The firm’s fiscal year is December 1 – November 30. Take your email’s complaints with a grain of salt.”]

For laterals… the bonus was pro-rated. Fair enough, you think – if someone arrived in, say, May, then they should only be paid the May – December share of the bonus. Except… it was “pro-rated” beyond that. The “special bonus” was not calculated from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2007 – it was calculated from November 2006 to November 2006!!!! The reason? “We promised to pay the bonus at the end of November – which we did – and we needed numbers for November. The only numbers we had for November were for November 2006, so we used those. Laterals didn’t have numbers for November or December 2006.

That’s right, folks – a lateral who arrived at Quinn in May was not only screwed out of the January to April part of the bonus, but had AN ADDITIONAL TWO MONTHS, NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER OF 2006, docked as well.

Instead of doing it that way, why couldn’t the firm, um, use a computer program to project out the associate’s likely year end total? Could it be because they didn’t actually want to pay associates the money? I can’t think of any other reason – can anyone else?

Incidentally, the firm is petty about other expenses that are routinely picked up by other firms. We do not have corporate credit cards, and have to bill business travel to our personal cards, then wait (sometimes for months) to be reimbursed by Accounting in LA. If we want an office supply other than a run of the mill pen or pencil – say, a bulletin board – we have to buy it ourselves. Desk lamps were recently approved as a “firm-reimbursed” purchase – woo hoo! – but associates in the New York office – whose office furniture, for some bizarre reason, did not include drawers – have to purchase such items on their own dime. And it’s well known that we don’t get the industry-standard 4 weeks of vacation that all other law firms offer, but a paltry 3.

Management like this is not sustainable – period. In setting its recruiting limits as high as it has, QE has, in the process, created a class of associates who are eminently able to vote with their feet – and, if treatment like this continues, are likely to do so if the pay situation is not rectified, and soon. The two interesting points to watch will be June, 2008, when the second half of the “special bonus” is paid, and January, 2009, when everyone who’s steaming at the moment but a) can’t afford to take the hit next June; b) hopes that management will somehow start behaving like a proper law firm and realizing that, to KEEP good people, you have to pay them, and pay fair bonuses next year.

The firm has lost several highly regarded senior associates in the last year, and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues. But if they continue to bring in partners from the outside, it seems pretty clear that they have no intention of creating “home grown” partners any time soon.

My advice to any law student or lateral considering Quinn? Avoid it like the plague. My switch (from [a top New York firm] where I was highly regarded) has cost me over $50,000 in lost bonuses alone. And why did I leave? Because I bought QE’s bullsh** about “early responsibility, great work, market rate pay.” None of it’s true.

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