We’ve devoted extensive coverage to associate bonuses. But what about bonuses for those lawyers who are neither associates nor partners (nor staff attoneys), referred to by most large law firms as “counsel”? How much are they getting in bonuses this time around?
Many Biglaw bonus memos contain language stating that counsel bonuses are determined separately from associate bonuses and on an individual basis. As a result, the bonus market for counsel — or “special counsel,” or “of counsel,” or “senior attorneys,” or whatever your firm might call these folks — isn’t very transparent.
Some readers have asked Above the Law to help….
We’d like to be useful, but there’s only so much we can do — since, as noted, counsel bonuses are determined individually, and many (but not all) firms frown upon lawyers discussing their compensation with others. It’s difficult for us to report on individually-tailored counsel bonuses at Firm X without revealing the counsel in question as having talked about their bonuses (either with ATL or with friends who then spoke with ATL).
The best we can probably do is an open thread. So here you go. In the comments to this post, please feel free to reveal as much (or as little) as you like about counsel bonuses at your firm (perhaps your own, or perhaps the bonus of someone you know). You could, for example, provide the following:
1. Your law school graduation year (actual or approximate).
2. A general description of your firm (e.g., Vault or Am Law ranking).
3. Your practice area.
4. Your city / legal market.
5. The amount of your 2010 bonus.
We encourage sharing from as many of you as possible. This thread’s usefulness as a resource will depend upon the quantity and quality of comments posted.
We’ll kick off the discussion with one reader’s detailed and thoughtful email about the status of counsel, and how the term means different things at different firms. Check it out below.
Please feel free to address any of his points in the comments. For purposes of this bonus open thread, though, we’d urge you to focus on the subject of bonuses for counsel who fall in categories (3) through (5), which have relevance to a wider range of readers than categories (1) and (2). Thanks.
ATL READER EMAIL — COUNSEL BONUSES
Was hoping you could shed light on salary structure/bonuses for newly made Big-Law counsel/special counsel, which remains a complete mystery … even to senior associates. Obviously the counsel means many different things.
1) A demotion for failing/retiring partners.
2) A flexible affiliation for firms requiring the cachet, contacts, or ad-hoc expertise of an influential professor or former judge.
3) A soft, yet temporary landing spot for passed-over associates who earned the time to find a quality (rather than first available) job.
4) A “partnership audition” platform for highly-credentialed laterals without prospective clients, often transitioning from notable government or in-house.
5) A genuine promotion with long-term potential for top-performing/highly-specialized associates, who do partner level work and mentor, but either opted for a life-style position … or settled into a derivative practice that may not fit the partnership/growth model.
Scenarios 1-3 are too individualized, varied, and short-term to yield valuable guidance
However, scenarios 4-5 are increasingly common in Big-law, particular at high-margin firms forced to revisit the traditional pyramid/leverage model, due to public clients that demand first-hand expertise, but significantly restrict junior associate involvement. Many firms have responded by increasing the counsel ranks in line with new partners … which of course gives firms added flexibility to reduce high-salary headcount quickly during down-cycles. Notwithstanding reduced job security, the salary and hours of big-law counsel make these highly-attractive, and seemingly obtainable positions for committed associates who might otherwise depart given dwindling partnership prospects.
Yet, very little is known about starting salaries, annual progressions, bonuses, perks, tenure etc of typical big-law counsel. Any insight?
- Standard salary/bonus compared to 8th/9th year associates?
- Set salary (varying only by bonuses), or is there step-wise schedule?
- Differences between corporate and litigation?
- Negotiation points?
Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of bonuses