Associate Bonus Watch 2010, Associate Salaries, Biglaw, Bonuses, Killing Lockstep, Money, Sheppard Mullin

WilmerHale Brings Clarity to Its Merit-Based Compensation Program

The heady days of the “mutual assured destruction” approach to associate compensation by Biglaw firms are behind us. But some associates would still like to see how they are doing in comparison to their colleagues at other firms. A tipster recently wrote us:

Can you do a post requesting commenters to post grade schedules a la greedyassociates back in the day showing salary per year. This would make comparisons easier. I’ll start:

Sheppard Mullin
1st year 145K
2nd 160
3rd 170
4th 185
5th 210
6th 225
then it gets vague with a range from 240-265K.

Some of this information is available in the firm profiles on the Above the Law Career Center. But as good greedy Sheppard-ite must know, comparing salaries is much more complicated these days due to some firms instituting merit-based compensation models.

WilmerHale is one of those firms. Yesterday, Wilmer released its projected salary structure for 2011. We’ll see if it’s a merit-based market leader…

The full memo appears below. But here’s the headline news from WilmerHale:

As with many merit-based programs, WilmerHale suggests that high-performing associates will have the opportunity to make much more money come bonus time. The memo below contains a projected bonus scale for a fifth-year associate at the firm.

But the problem many associates have had with merit-based programs is that it’s hard for them to know the factors upon which their compensation is going to be based on. Here are the subjective factors WilmerHale will be using to assess “merit”:

The first measure, Quality of Contribution, is derived from the overall evaluation assessment….

The second measure, Productivity and Value, factors in the time spent performing substantive legal work, whether for a paying or pro bono client, or other substantive work the Firm has asked our attorneys to perform…

Overall, the compensation system provides that, as seniority increases, those who are meeting and exceeding the Firm’s high expectations are rewarded at greater levels than those who are not. The design also includes a productivity floor—attorneys whose level of productivity falls substantially below our expectations will not be eligible for a bonus.

WilmerHale is giving its associates a lot of information regarding the future of compensation at the firm. But the real test of WilmerHale’s transparency will come at bonus time. Remember that last year Orrick released its bonus distribution charts along with its bonus announcement.

When you’re dealing with soft factors, it’s good to have a look at hard numbers. WilmerHale seems to be trying to put some meat on the bones of its merit-based system.

WILMERHALE COMPENSATION DESIGN DETAILS



Earlier: WilmerHale Joins the Killing Lockstep Party

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