Associate Bonus Watch 2009, Salary Cuts, Salary Freeze, Venable

A Bonus, A Salary Thaw, A Salary Freeze — It’s All Possible at Venable

Venable logo.jpgWe all know that Venable is a “wacky” place to work. But is the firm also cheap? Last week, the firm announced its 2010 salary structure. It’s almost like Venable looked at all the different ways firms are handling salaries and decided to try all of them, at the same time. The firm-wide memo from managing partner Karl Racine truly has it all:

As you know, 2009 has been a difficult year for the practice of law. The impact of the recession on our clients has been severe. As a result of this unprecedented downturn in business activity, law firms were forced to take significant action to fundamentally realign their business models with the reality of a market place characterized by a significant decline in the demand for legal services. In a real way, the law firm business model has experienced a demonstrable market correction. While Venable has not been immune from these economic forces, the firm has exhibited remarkable and enviable resilience.
As we prepare to close the books for 2009, the firm will likely end the year less than one percent below 2008 revenues. There is no doubt that the firm’s solid performance is attributable to the superior work and effort of all of its staff, lawyers, legislative advisors, legal professionals, and management team. Perhaps like no other year in the firm’s history, Venable charted its own course in the face of disparate actions taken by our competitors.

I suppose, technically speaking, doing a random mash-up of all the things your competitors have done constitutes “chart[ing] [your] own course.”
Let’s break it down after the jump.

Can I get a salary thaw with a hint of merit-based compensation structure? According to the firm-wide memo, the answer is yes:

Associates beyond the second year level will be eligible for merit-based salary increases above current salary levels.

Great! But what about a salary freeze? One of those freezes that doesn’t seem particularly economically necessary, but firms can get away with anyway so long as lateral hiring remains depressed?

Second-year Associates will not receive a merit increase due to what we believe is a reset of Associate compensation, particularly at the first and second year levels.

Ahh… that’s the good stuff.
You know what this salary structure is missing? A good, old-fashioned salary cut:

The 29 first-year Associates who will begin their career next month will have the starting salary of $135,000.

Okay Venable, now put it all together with an inelegant, non-lockstep bonus structure that sounds vaguely merit-based. But make sure you don’t publicize any hard numbers, so it all has an air of “what”?

All Associates will be eligible for bonuses based on the quality of their work, contribution to the firm and meeting or exceeding the firm’s standards. In this regard, the 2009 bonus pool will be similar in size to the 2008 bonus pool, consistent with our desire to pay well for hard work and excellent performance.

Nice. You guys are real pros at this.
Higher up the chain, everything is going as planned for the senior people at Venable:

Of Counsel, Non-Equity Partners, Legislative Advisors, and other salaried Legal Professionals are eligible for merit-based increases and bonuses consistent with their 2009 performance. The pool for merit salary increases and bonuses will be similar to that for work performed in 2008.

A tipster tells us that Venable recently promoted six associates to partner. We’re not sure if these are promotions to equity or non-equity partner, but promotions certainly suggest that things are going according to plan.
In sum:

In summary, the principles for salary based legal personnel are clear — increased compensation and bonuses for superior work, effort, and contribution to the firm. On behalf of the management team, I thank you for your immense contribution to the firm in 2009. Let’s make 2010 a great year.

There are a lot of words you could use to describe Venable’s salary structure. “Clear” is not one of them.
Earlier: The Ballers at Venable

(hidden for your protection)

comments sponsored by

Show all comments