Your bonus is freedom.

Here at Above the Law, we spend a lot of time talking about bonuses to associates working in Biglaw firms. As you might have noticed from our bonus coverage over the past month or so, the size of these payouts is underwhelming to many who are receiving them.

But that coverage only deals with those few, those happy few, who are lucky enough to receive any type of bonus whatsoever. For many in and around Biglaw, their bonus this year will be $0. Their spring bonus will not exist. And they won’t even have Cravath to blame for it.

We’re talking about paralegals. We’re talking about secretaries. We’re talking about government lawyers and law clerks and a bunch of other people who worked really hard in 2011 and might get no bonus at all.

We feel your pain….

It must be really tough to be part of the legal support staff at a Biglaw firm during bonus season. We know that some firms still do give bonuses to their secretaries and paralegals (check out the comments to this post about holiday gifts for staff, where some lawyers argue that these bonuses reduce the need for them to give gifts to their staff). But many Biglaw firms used the recession as an excuse to stop paying out staff bonuses. Even firms that still pay them have stagnated their staff bonuses just like their associate bonuses, even though profits per partner keep going up and up and up.

While many associates complain about greedy partners who won’t share the wealth with their associates, there are few associates who are willing to take less so there is more bonus money left over for staff. Laments one paralegal reader:

Take it from me, no one feels more screwed during bonus time than the secretaries and paralegals that bust their asses all year long and that have remained loyal to a law firm to only get a bonus that barely covers their parking bill for the month.

After being at my firm for almost ten years as a paralegal, I almost wish I stayed at my old law firm, where I would have earned a bonus of $6,000.00. At my current firm, they bill me out at almost $270 per hour. I put in almost 2000 hours per year for all ten years I have been employed by my firm, most times billing more than the associates I work with. My salary is between $75,000 – $80,000 (at least $10,000 less than I should be getting paid for the amount of experience I have — over 15 years in my field). This year my firm will have made almost $500,000 on my billings alone. If you take out my salary and any overtime I got, they will have made almost $375,000 on my billings alone. Some of the associates I work with have not been nearly as profitable as I have been. But because my law firm is cheap (there I said it) and the partners of our firm are greedy (the number of partners at our firm outweigh the associates almost 2-1) I will more than likely get the huge bonus of $1500. That’s not even a 1% bonus on the $375,000 I made my firm.

Does that seem right at all? I say no. So when you guys write about the plight of the associates in big law firms… remember the rest of us non-lawyers that are getting screwed just as much, if not more.

Okay, calm down associates. I know when the tipster said the word “overtime” many of you got that “what is this, I don’t even” look on your faces. But the overall point still stands: paralegals also contribute to the profitability of the firm, and their bonuses are totally crappy — if they can even get their hands on one.

Support staff aren’t the only ones who would happily take the crumbs Cravath is doling out to its associates. Have you seen what’s happening with the lawyers who work for government, federal and state?

There are pay freezes all over the place. States are completely broke. The federal government doesn’t have the stones to increase revenue.

Do you think federal government attorneys — the ones who get salaries, not the ones who work for free — are getting a bonus? From a tipster:

Bonus news: fed lawyers get nothing. In fact, we don’t even get a COLA. And it’s looking like a cut. So Biglaw folks can quit bitching about getting “only” 37.5.

We hear that, we really do.

On the flip side, government friends, I bet you guys are barely working next week. Or this week. And you can go home at a reasonable hour. And you can sleep at night without wondering why you got into this racket. (And, if you want, some of you can go through that revolving door back into private practice, once your kids get near college age.)

Happy holidays. Remember that money isn’t everything — unless you are working for a Biglaw firm, in which case it’s the only thing.


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