Associate Bonus Watch 2010, Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Sidley Austin Pwns Cravath/DPW Associates

Dear associates at Cravath and Davis Polk (and other firms that have matched the Cravath bonus): you guys are getting screwed. No, seriously, you’re getting rogered but good. If you are going to take this lowball bonus the partners are shoving down your throats and grin and bear it, maybe you deserve what’s happening to you. Cravath could pay you more; Davis Polk could pay you more. The partners are simply refusing to do it so they can pocket a little bit of extra money at your expense.

Because not every Biglaw partnership is that cheap. Oh sure, the partners at Cravath and DPW and a bunch of other firms can pretend that Cahill Gordon is not a “Biglaw” firm. They can throw Cahill and their awesome bonus into the “boutique” category.

But when Sidley Austin is beating the bag out of your bonus — in New York — you simply cannot ignore that. The firm has over 1,500 lawyers. It is BIG.

Sidley has seen the Cravath bonus — and is slamming it. Cravath and DPW should be embarrassed…

Here’s the bonus memo from Sidley, in pertinent part:

We are pleased to be able to acknowledge your exceptional contributions with performance-based bonuses and salary increases.

The number of associates receiving a bonus has increased by nearly 20% over 2009, and the total bonuses being awarded has increased by more than 25% from last year.  As is our custom, we have determined bonuses on an individual basis.  Year-end bonuses continue to be discretionary and, where awarded, are tailored to each associate’s circumstances.  General eligibility criteria remain the same as in past years.  In establishing bonus amounts, we have given substantial weight to the quality of an associate’s work, which remains the most important factor in evaluating an associate’s performance and prospects for long-term success at the Firm.  We also have considered the hours that each associate has spent on chargeable, pro bono, and certain non-chargeable matters, such as legal services and other special contributions to the Firm.

Yes, I know that Cravath and DPW are straight lockstep firms, while Sidley has all of these bonus eligibility requirements. But don’t lose the forest because of the the trees. Sidley’s bonus pool is 25% larger than it was last year (when the firm matched Cravath). And since Cravath is paying the same bonus this year as it was last year, that means Sidley’s average bonus is 25% higher than the comparable Cravath average bonus (assuming no major changes in headcount).

UPDATE: Please see the comments for some possible caveats and objections. But regardless of the fine print, the main takeaways stand: (1) Sidley is paying out significantly more in total bonus money than last year, and (2) the Sidley sources we’ve heard from are very, very happy. (We have yet to hear from anyone at Sidley claiming they’ve been shortchanged or that the firm’s bonus memo is misleading.)

In case my bold type is not getting the point across, we’re talking about TWENTY FIVE PERCENT MORE MONEY. And as far as the individualized component, many “individuals” have been telling Above the Law that they’re getting paid a lot more than what their counterparts at Cravath are making. As one associate put it: “Sidley Austin is making it rain up in this motherf***er!”

We’ve got people in the class of 2007 telling us they got a $30,000 bonus. That’s $15K more than a 2007 associate got from Cravath. We’ve got a person in the class of 2006 getting $40K, (Cravath’s 2006 associates only got $20K). Are you getting the point? Some Sidley associates are getting DOUBLE what Cravath associates are getting. How in God’s name can Cravath claim to be paying a competitive market salary when a firm with over 1,500 lawyers is doubling the “Cravath bonus” for some associates?

Bottom line, if you are busting your tail at Cravath or one of the Cravath followers, you’re just a pansy. You could be making more money, but you’re not, because you are NO LONGER WORKING for a firm that pays top of the market salary. I’m sorry about that, but obviously your partners believe you should be paid as little as they can get away with. Sidley Austin associates are out earning you for fundamentally the same work. And there’s not a single thing you can buy on Amazon with your “Cravath Prestige Points.” What’s in your wallet?

Our friends at Sidley are ecstatic. In addition to the bonus, Sidley made a bunch of new partners. Four litigation partners in New York and nearly 30 firm-wide. Their morale couldn’t be higher. They feel like their firm isn’t openly screwing them over.

Cravath associates simply can’t say the same thing.

UPDATE: For a somewhat less enthusiastic take on the Sidley bonuses, see this update.

Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch 2010

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