Associate Bonus Watch 2009, Killing Lockstep

Associate Bonus Watch: Fried Frank’s Black Box of Bonuses

2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGThis morning brings associate bonus news from Fried Frank. The firm’s bonus announcement reflects the broader Biglaw trend of moving away from a lockstep compensation system.
Last year, Fried Frank employed a standard bonus schedule, along Cravath lines, with bonuses paid out in accordance with seniority. This year, the firm has ditched the traditional class-year bonus schedule, instead paying “year-end bonuses to New York associates in varying amounts up to $35,000.”
So the firm is doling out bonuses “in varying amounts,” up to $35,000 — the top of this year’s Sullivan & Cromwell bonus schedule. But Fried Frank provides no information as to distribution of bonuses, mean or median amounts, etc. (unlike, say, Latham, which does provide such distributional info about bonuses).
What determines the amount of your bonus at Fried Frank? Several factors, including “seniority, levels of activity, quality of and hours worked, client service and contributions to pro bono activities.” Translation: the firm reserves complete and total discretion with respect to bonuses. There isn’t even a bonus guarantee based on hitting certain billable-hours targets.
The full memo appears after the jump. If you’re at Fried Frank, feel free to compare notes about your bonuses in the comments. Is this opacity a way for Fried Frank to get away with paying out less in bonuses? Or is the firm paying out basically the same as under a lockstep system, but just rewarding the high performers and punishing the laggards?
As always, please send us law firm bonus news to us by email (subject line: “[Firm Name] Bonus News”). Thanks.
P.S. The Fried Frank bonus announcement is for New York. We don’t know what FFHSJ plans to do for its D.C. or international associates.

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Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch – 2009

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