Associate Bonus Watch 2010, David Boies

Associate Bonus Watch: Boies Schiller Sets the Bonus Bar

The Boies bonuses make our use of this photo appropriate.

Earlier this month, we heard that Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the legendary litigation firm founded by the celebrated David Boies, wasn’t holding its lavish annual firm retreat in Jamaica (to which spouses and families have been invited in the past, all on the firm’s dime). This made us wonder: Despite its extensive involvement in headline-making cases throughout 2010, did BSF somehow not have a good year? [FN1]

Umm, no — at least not based on the Boies bonuses. Boies Schiller announced its associate bonuses on Tuesday, and they were “generous as usual,” according to one source.

Actually, that’s an understatement — a huge one. Almost as huge as the Boies Schiller bonuses. We believe them to be the biggest and best of the bonus season so far.

We reached out to the firm, which provided us with some hard numbers about its eye-popping bonuses….

Before we get to the numbers, here’s a quick caveat, to preempt protest from angry associates at Cahill, Susman, Kirkland, or other firms that might vie for the “best bonuses” crown this year (no, not you, Cravath, nor you, S&C). We believe the Boies bonuses to be the most generous of 2010 so far, but we acknowledge that it’s hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons in an age where non-lockstep, highly individualized bonuses are fast becoming the norm — that is, if they aren’t the norm already. We do what we can here at ATL to add a little transparency to the bonus market, but there’s only so much we can do (especially since, in a non-lockstep system, sources can’t provide us with too much detail about their individualized bonuses without running the risk of outing themselves).

Now, on to the numbers. Above the Law reached out to Boies Schiller for information about its bonuses. Phil Korologos, a partner in the New York office, provided ATL with this statement:

Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP is proud of its associates’ extensive contributions to the firm’s considerable accomplishments in what was a very busy year.

In addition to leading-level associate salaries, associates after their first year receive bonuses based on performance. The average awarded bonus for associates who have been with the firm for at least a year was over $75,000 for 2010. Several of the firm’s highest performing associates achieved bonuses of more than $200,000.

Yup, you read that right: an average bonus of $75K, and high bonuses in excess of $200K. We believe that’s the highest average and the highest high bonus of any major (i.e., Am Law or Vault 100) law firm. (Of course, if we’re wrong, please email us.)

And it seems reasonable to assess bonuses in a non-lockstep world by using the average bonus and the top bonus as comparison points. We understand the difference between the mean and the median, and we realize that sometimes an average can hide a messed-up distribution pattern. Alas, sometimes the average is all you can get.

Philip Korologos’s statement is, by the way, generally consistent with what we’ve heard from our own BSF sources. They report as follows:

  • Nobody has spoken with anyone at Boies who didn’t get more than the Cravath scale.
  • Some junior associates (0-3 years) received bonuses over $100K.
  • Some junior to midlevel associates earned bonuses that were ten to fifteen times what they would have gotten under the Cravath scale.

Also, note that Boies Schiller doesn’t have the Susman Godfrey issue of somewhat lower base salaries for more senior associates (although note how short Susman’s partnership track is). Phil Korologos’s statement refers to BSF’s “leading-level associate salaries,” and that they are. Check out the Boies base salary scale, which the firm shared with us last year:

First years: $174,000
Second years: $192,000
Third years: $210,000
Fourth years: $228,000
Fifth years: $246,000
Sixth years: $264,000

(Beyond the sixth year, salaries are determined individually. And by then you’re getting into partnership territory anyway.)

End of rainbow = 2500+ billable hours?

So it seems to us that the Boies bonuses are the best on the street. But if you disagree — by the way, what did Wachtell Lipton do this year? — feel free to make your case in the comments, or email us, or text us (646-820-TIPS). Thanks.

P.S. Yes, we know that Boies has an unusual and somewhat complex compensation system, which ties associate compensation to the amount of revenue the associate generates for the firm. If you’re not familiar with how it works — warning: math is involved — just read our detailed post from last year.

[FN1] Regarding the Jamaica retreat, one rumor we’re hearing is that family retreats might take place every two years as opposed to every year (partly due to the firm expanding and growing too big to do a families retreat each year, and partly due to concerns over appearances to clients).

In addition — and this is just idle speculation on our part — we wonder whether Jamaica, which has been dubbed “the most homophobic island in the Caribbean,” wasn’t the best vacation destination for a firm doing pioneering work on behalf of LGBT rights (namely, David Boies’s work on the Proposition 8 case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger).

UPDATE (1:30 PM): Here are some of Boies’s notable victories this year, from Am Law Daily:

There was, for instance, Boies’s big win for Oracle in the software giant’s copyright fight against German rival SAP — Oracle was awarded $1.3 billion in damages. Then came the ruling by a Los Angeles judge tossing out a marital property agreement that could have given sole ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Frank McCourt while denying a piece of the team to his ex-wife — and Boies client — Jamie McCourt. In an effort not driven by fees and billables, Boies also teamed up with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson in a high-profile challenge to California’s anti-gay ballot initiative.

Boies and Olson won the Prop 8 case — big-time — in district court. Now all eyes are on the Ninth Circuit.

Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch: Boies Will Be Boies
Associate Bonus Watch 2010

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