On Friday, the firm of Mayer Brown announced supplemental bonuses for its U.S.-based associates (a few hours before Quinn Emanuel, which we’ll write up on Monday; we try to limit weekend writing because so few of you are around to read it).

Mayer Brown is using the Cravath spring bonus scale (shocker). The bonuses will be paid on or about May 13, 2011.

One MB tipster was pleasantly surprised: “I can barely believe it.” A second source was quite happy: “General reaction seems to be very positive, at least in the Chicago office.”

There are some eligibility requirements. Let’s take a look….

The full memorandum, from managing partner (and star SCOTUS litigator) Kenneth Geller, appears below. Here’s the operative language:

In order to be eligible for a supplemental bonus, an associate in the Class of 2009 or more senior must have received a year-end bonus for 2010 and maintained a bonus-eligible level of productivity since then, and must be in good standing for bonus purposes as of March 31, 2011.

In addition, class of 2010 associates will receive the standard $2,500, without regard to hours.

Ken Geller’s memo, in explaining the bonuses, cites the firm’s “commitment to providing competitive compensation.” And that, at bottom, is what the spring bonus phenomenon is all about.

If a major law firm pays “competitive compensation,” then it can make its case to potential recruits based on other factors — firm culture, quality of life, specific practice areas that are strong, etc. If a firm fails to pay competitive compensation, then it really has to distinguish itself in these other respects — which can be difficult to do, because many firms will cite the same factors in touting themselves: “collegiality,” “diversity,” a lack of “screamers,” and star partners and practice groups.

Congratulations to the Mayer Brown associates on their bonuses, and kudos to Mayer Brown for joining the club. Now the firm can talk to potential hires about its positive attributes — like its stellar appellate and Supreme Court practice, for instance — without having to explain why it’s not paying spring bonuses when its peer firms are.

P.S. This should go without saying (it’s just common sense), but if you’re applying to a law firm, don’t ask questions about compensation until after you have an offer in hand. First, it’s presumptuous. Second, it makes you look like a money grubber, more concerned about enriching yourself than about the excitement and intellectual challenge of practicing law — which is what you really care about, right?

Earlier: Springtime Bonus Watch 2011

MAYER BROWN — MEMORANDUM — SUPPLEMENTAL BONUSES

TO: All U.S. Associates

FROM: Kenneth S. Geller

DATE: April 15, 2011

SUBJECT: Supplemental Bonuses for Associates in U.S. Offices

In keeping with our Firm’s commitment to providing competitive compensation, I am pleased to announce that we will be paying supplemental bonuses in all of our U.S. offices. The bonus amounts are as follows:

Class of 2010: $2,500
Class of 2009: $7,500
Class of 2008: $10,000
Class of 2007: $15,000
Class of 2006 and more senior: $20,000

In order to be eligible for a supplemental bonus, an associate in the Class of 2009 or more senior must have received a year-end bonus for 2010 and maintained a bonus-eligible level of productivity since then, and must be in good standing for bonus purposes as of March 31, 2011. Associates in the Class of 2010 will be paid a supplemental bonus without regard to hours. The supplemental bonuses will be pro-rated on the same basis as the year-end 2010 bonuses. These supplemental bonuses are not intended to anticipate or supplant the bonuses that we have typically paid after the end of the year. All bonuses are at the discretion of the Firm.

To be eligible to receive a bonus, associates must be actively employed on the bonus payment date. We expect to pay bonuses on May 13, 2011.

Once we have completed our review to identify those associates eligible for a supplemental bonus, Practice Leaders will advise the associates in their practice area who will be receiving a bonus.

We thank all of our associates for their continued commitment and effort on behalf of the Firm and our clients.


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