Associate Bonus Watch 2011, Biglaw, Billable Hours, Bonuses, john quinn, Litigators, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Quinn Emanuel Rewards High Billers

It seems that founding partner John Quinn isn’t the only one at Quinn Emanuel with a surplus of Benjamins right about now. On Friday, the litigation powerhouse announced its 2011 year-end bonus scale — and, for the most part, it’s more generous than the benchmark Cravath bonus scale.

We say “for the most part” because, for associates billing under 2100 hours, the scale is below Cravath — but just slightly. And it’s our understanding that not many QE associates bill less than 2100 hours anyway.

Let’s take a look at the details….

The memo, from partner Richard Schirtzer, appears in full on the next page. Here’s the most pertinent part, the table of bonus amounts at different levels of seniority and billable hours:

Here are a few observations on the QE bonus announcement (quotations are from Quinn sources):

  • “Around 25% higher than Cravath for 2100 hours….”
  • “[W]e’re swimming with work, so I can’t imagine there are many associates who didn’t receive above-Cravath bonuses.”
  • The top bonus on the table — for class of 2004 associates who billed over 2800 hours (ouch) — is $62,000, about $25,000 more than the top bonus on the Cravath scale (or $20,000 more than the top bonus on the Sullivan & Cromwell scale).
  • There are stub bonuses of $1,000 or $2,000 available to class of 2011 hires (including newly hired clerks).
  • Bonuses will be paid by Wednesday or Thursday of this week (i.e., by December 21 or 22).

All in all, it’s a perfectly fair scale, especially for high billers. If you’re going to work a lot of hours — and associates at places like Cravath and S&C sure do work a lot of hours — you might as well be paid for the extra effort, right?

It should be noted, though, that in some respects this scale is less generous than the 2010 Quinn bonus scale. Last year, you’ll recall, the firm announced two bonus payouts: one payout in December, which was at or above the Cravath scale for associates billing 2100 hours or more, and a second payout in June, amounting to an extra 50 percent of the December payout. This time around, the firm is announcing just December payouts.

Presumably it’s taking this approach in anticipation of spring bonuses in 2012, which the memo explicitly addresses: “We know some firms have indicated they will pay additional bonuses this Spring. While we are not announcing any specific level of Spring bonuses now, we will certainly match any bonuses that other competitive firms may offer.” And this “wait and see” tactic makes sense, so that the firm in 2012 won’t have to do what it did in 2011, when it had to go back and supplement its June bonuses in response to the spring bonus trend. Instead, under this new approach, QE can simply see what other firms pay out in spring bonuses, then beat them in one fell swoop.

UPDATE (1:25 PM): It seems that some associates are not pleased by these bonuses. From the comments:

“This bonus was just enough to prevent a mutiny, but most associates I’ve talked to definitely aren’t happy. Think about it. Wachtell — the other firm that has as high PPP as Quinn — gives out HUGE bonuses. Quinn’s partners make the same amount of money, but pay out these measly bonuses.”

“Wachtell associates work marginally more than Quinn associates. Marginally. They also have a lot better quality of life because Quinn has absolutely no support staff or office support. Quinn puts people in cheap hotels, and is cheap with meals, reimbursement, all that kind of jazz.”

“$62000 does not make working 2999 hours worth it.”

And from a tipster who contacted us directly:

“Offering the extra $5K per [hours] tier makes little sense — if QE is doing it to reward associates, why be cheap about it and give $16 an hour? …. [T]he takeaway is trying to understand the mindset behind the Quinn bonus: it’s like the want to conjure the aura of ‘beating the market’ but want it cheaply.”

If you’re interested, you can check out the full Quinn Emanuel bonus memo by flipping to the next page (or clicking here).

UPDATE (12/21/11): Here’s a harsher take on the QE bonuses.

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of associate bonuses
Associate Bonus Watch: Quinn Emanuel Pays 150 Percent of Cravath Scale — With Some Catches
Can Somebody Break a Hundred for John Quinn?
Associate Bonus Watch: Sullivan & Cromwell ‘Beats’ Cravath — and Promises Spring Bonuses
Breaking: Cravath Bonuses Are Out; Welcome to the 2011 Bonus Season!

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