Associate Bonus Watch 2010

Associate Bonus Watch: MoFo Promises to Match, Even in Markets Where It Doesn’t Know What It Will Be Matching

Late last night, Morrison & Foerster announced its bonus structure, kind of. The firm will be matching the Cravath bonus in New York, it hopes. And it will be matching the market in other markets, whatever that market turns out to be.

You can tell that a lawyer (as opposed to a PR professional) wrote the MoFo bonus memo. There are so many caveats and opt-outs in this baby you’d think the firm was acquiring something instead of just paying a bonus.

Let’s check this baby out. There’s one memo for the New York associates and a different one that was disseminated firm wide…

Here’s the memo for New York associates, from partner Charles Kerr:

On behalf of the firm and the New York partners, I am very pleased to announce that, if the firm achieves its net income budget for the current year, we will be paying New York market year-end bonuses for 2010 in the amount described in the chart below on or about February 15, 2011.

The bonus will be paid to New York associates in a manner consistent with the Firm’s compensation and evaluation policies. Bonuses will be based on salary class year and will be pro-rated for start dates, part-time arrangements, and any leaves-of-absence taken during the calendar year. While the New York discretionary bonus is not contingent on achieving a specific hours target, should bonuses be paid, the amount may vary based on significant differences in levels of contribution, either as to quality or commitment, and an individual discretionary bonus may be adjusted downwards or withheld. Subject to the foregoing, bonuses will be paid to all New York associates who progress with their salary class based on their annual evaluation and who are in good standing and employed with the Firm when the bonuses are paid…

The memo goes on to list payouts that are along the Cravath bonus scale. But as you can see, there are a lot of caveats. Telling associates that the firm will pay bonuses if it hits budgetary projections, and then not telling associates what those numbers are, is a huge opt-out for MoFo.

The other big reservation is that associates will get a matching bonus only if they meet certain subjective factors that MoFo doesn’t even explain. The one objective criteria is hours, but MoFo is going to disregard that, and pay people, whatever. Bill 2400 hours? Sorry, your quality and commitment don’t merit a full bonus.

Notice also, these arguably “merit-based” factors can only adjust your bonus downwards.

Congratulations MoFo New York?

The rest of the firm also received a bonus memo full of vagueness. Here’s the memo from managing partner Keith Wetmore:

On behalf of Morrison & Foerster, let me emphasize how much we appreciate your hard work and your commitment to delivering successful results to our clients.

I am pleased to confirm that if the firm meets the net income budget approved by the partners for this year:

For all associates outside New York in the U.S., or based in international offices and paid in accordance with the non-New York U.S. structure, we anticipate paying bonuses for 2010 based on a combination of performance, determined through the associate evaluation process, and hours. To the extent distinctions in the amounts of bonuses are made based on hours, distinctions will be made for those performing at 2100 and 2300 Efficient Legal Services Hours (1900 and 2300 Efficient Legal Service Hours for patent associates). Amounts, eligibility, and the structure of such bonuses will be determined early in 2011; and

for all associates in New York, the annual discretionary bonuses in New York will be the same as those recently announced by Cravath, Skadden and others in the New York market.

Again, I think that the bonus for non-New York associates can be summarized as: “MoFo will pay whatever it wants; not a dollar more than the matching market bonus, but we reserve the right to pay less.”

There was so other non-bonus news Wetmore shared with associates:

In addition, as stated in my February 16, 2010 memorandum, the firm will pay to associates who received a single step increase on base compensation in 2010 a contribution bonus in 2011 in the amount of the deferred additional step increase, assuming progression with one’s class and meeting the Efficient Legal Services Hours expectation in 2010.

With respect to 2011 associate compensation, we continue to monitor the market and will have additional announcements in early 2011.

Biglaw is a strange business, isn’t it. How many other industries get away with so blatantly saying that they’ll pay only what everybody else pays? But it is what it is. MoFo associates will get what Cravath associates get, or less. But not a penny more.

Not sure that they needed two memos to explain that.

Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch 2010

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