Associate Bonus Watch 2011, Biglaw, Bonuses

Associate Bonus Watch: Milbank Matches — or Beats? — Cravath and Skadden

Last night, Milbank Tweed matched the Cravath bonus scale for 2011. The news, first reported by Am Law Daily, came on the heels of yesterday’s Skadden match.

But wait — did Milbank perhaps beat the Cravath and Skadden bonus scales? Let’s look at the details of the Milbank bonus announcement….

Perhaps by a nose. We aren’t talking about the scenario conjured up by Ashby Jones of the WSJ Law Blog, who imagined the possibility of a litigation juggernaut (cough cough, Boies Schiller) showing up and doubling the Cravath bonuses. Here are the particulars of the Milbank announcement:

  • The Milbank bonuses are payable on or before January 13, 2012. (It’s MTHM’s usual practice to pay in the new year.)
  • As noted by Am Law, based on its interview of firm chairman Mel Immergut, “[t]he bonus applies to all associates, regardless of which office they work in, and is not based on hours or individual performance.”
  • The scale tops out at $37,500 for class of 2003 (like Skadden’s; the Cravath scale stops at class of 2004).
  • The Milbank bonus schedule includes $7,500 for class of 2011 members, to be prorated for their start dates.

That last item is the most interesting one. A prorated $7,500, paid to associates who have been on the job for only a few months, won’t amount to much (especially after taxes, and especially in New York — maybe you can buy yourself an iPad). But it’s a nice gesture, which won’t cost the firm much.

And is it a gesture that Cravath and Skadden failed to make? Did CSM and SASMF pay stub-year bonuses to baby first-years? Let us know, by email or by text (646-820-8477 / 646-820-8477).

It seems to us that Cravath at least did not pay a bonus to the class of 2011. Look at the text of the CSM bonus memo: “To be eligible for a bonus, an associate must have been employed at the Firm prior to September 1, 2011.” Our guess — correct us if we’re wrong — is that most incoming associates at Cravath at least started after Labor Day (which fell on September 5 this year).

So maybe the Milbank class of 2011 associates are pleased. The more-senior folks, not so much.

“Reaction is generally negative,” one MTHM source told us. “Many groups — leveraged finance, projects and restructuring — are extremely busy, and are already bleeding associates. We expect this will accelerate the process. ”

Fair enough. If you’re unhappy with your firm’s compensation, the solution is to vote with your feet. But due to the possibility of lawyer layoffs returning, and the “LIFO” approach that some firms take to cutting attorneys — “Last In, First Out” — some associates are understandably less eager to lateral.

As Ashby Jones of the WSJ Law Blog noted — sensibly, in my view (although maybe not Elie’s) — “a job at Cravath or Skadden with a lackluster bonus is still better than many, many, many alternatives.”

Milbank Matches Cravath As Bonus Season Kicks Into High Gear [Am Law Daily]
First Cravath, then Skadden, then . . . Everyone Else? [WSJ Law Blog]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of Associate Bonus Watch 2011

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