Ed. note: Law Shucks focuses on life in, and after, Biglaw, including by tracking layoffs, bonuses, and laterals. Above the Law is pleased to bring you this weekly column, which analyzes news at the world’s top law firms.
We’ve hit another lull in the Biglaw calendar. Recruiting is pretty much over. 2Ls and 3Ls lucky enough to have offers for summer jobs and full-time employment, respectively, have accepted or are finishing up the decisionmaking process (and for those no-offered or otherwise shut out, or interested in a good read, don’t miss ATL’s new column about one guy who made it back to BigLaw). May’s graduates have either just started or are sitting out the last months of their deferrals — and either way, they’re waiting for bar exam results.
But there are two significant events on the horizon, and glimmers of hope and speculation are starting to appear. Much like Christmas advertising creeps earlier and earlier into the fall, so too does speculation about law-firm bonuses. We, at least, have had the decency to wait until after Halloween.
Above the Law barely made it to October. A month ago, ATL posted a survey on what bonuses would look like this year. Optimism abounded, with 50% (n=1,155) expecting higher bonuses, and 35% thinking they would be no worse than last year.
Bonuses and Other Comp
No major U.S. firms have announced their bonus scales yet, but someone should be the first any day now. After that the gates will open, and we’ll see whether that optimism was warranted. We do have a few early indicators, though. Morgan Lewis chairman Fran Milone told his associates that the bonus pool will be "substantially larger" than last year’s. And that whole "move away from lockstep" thing that the bad economy forced onto some firms — well, MLB’s not going that way.
Over in the U.K., Slaughter & May, which is sometimes (misguidedly, in our opinion) called the English Wachtell, will be paying bonuses of 8% of base for attorneys, 3% for staff. That’s up from 5% and 2.5%, respectively. By the way, when Slaughter is compared favorably to Wachtell, it’s because they’re both significantly smaller than their competition but more profitable. It’s clearly not a comparison of bonuses, because Wachtell is legendarily generous.
Forewarned is forearmed, though — Simpson Thacher was explicit about it, and put some teeth to the policy, but CHECK YOU HOURS. No bonus and 20% pay docking if hours aren’t submitted timely.
Jones Day staff don’t have to submit hours, which is fine because the firm just announced, 11 months into the year, that it’s ending its year-end payment program. Instead, they’re going to some completely unauditable, undefined performance-based structure. For staff. Whose ability to actually influence results of operation is almost nil. Stay classy, Cleveland!
Most firms sorted out their comp a few months ago so they could present a coherent picture to their suitors, but Foley & Lardner has only now gotten itself sorted out. We’re sure those affected are at least relieved, despite the wait. The firm is going back to a $160k scale in major markets.
One new addition to the market is Sullivan & Cromwell in London. They’re entering with a bang, offering a 25% lift for a new solicitor intake program over New York rivals Skadden and Weil Gotshal.
And let’s not lose sight of the real "prize." It’s almost partnership season for many firms, and the announcements are starting to trickle out. White & Case, which has been hit by scores of defections, was one of the firms trumpeting its new partners earlier than usual.