Associate Bonus Watch 2011, Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Updates and Addenda

In the world of Biglaw, the subject of bonuses is a hot-button issue. People will disagree, often vehemently, on whether the bonuses paid by a particular firm are generous or cheap. To paraphrase an old joke, if you ask two people about bonuses, you’ll get three opinions.

Given these frequent differences of opinion, whenever we publish an Associate Bonus Watch post, we’re eager to get opinions and additional information from you, our readers. As you can see from looking back at our prior bonus coverage, we often update our bonus posts to add new information or another point of view. You can send us reactions to your firm’s bonuses — or news of bonuses we have not yet covered — by email or by text message (646-820-8477 / 646-820-TIPS).

Some of our recent bonus posts have generated salient updates and dissenting opinions. After the jump, we bring you postscripts regarding bonuses at several major law firms, including Cravath, Kaye Scholer, Quinn Emanuel, Sidley Austin, and Weil Gotshal….

1. Cravath

For ease of reference, we refer to Cravath’s 2011 bonus scale, which tops out at $37,500, as being “lower” than Sullivan & Cromwell’s 2011 bonus scale, which tops out at $42,500. But in fairness to Cravath, we should mention this information (which we previously mentioned in Cravath Cribs: Part 1):

[Cravath has “practice area attorneys” or “specialist attorneys” who] run complex portions of deals (e.g., derivatives, real estate, UCC, etc.), where it’s not as economical to have too many partners…. [These non-partnership-track lawyers] aren’t paid bonuses on the same scale as associates, so while they may technically be older than class of 2003, their comp isn’t on that scale.

The Cravath bonus memo itself also expressly states that “[b]onuses for senior attorneys, specialist attorneys, discovery specialist attorneys and foreign associate attorneys will be determined on an individual basis.”

In other words, there are some non-partner lawyers at Cravath, from the class of 2003 and more senior, who probably received bonuses equal to or greater than the $42,500 that is the top bonus at S&C and several other firms (e.g., Dewey, Cadwalader, Paul Weiss, Davis Polk, Debevoise, Cleary, and Simpson). So it may not be perfectly accurate, in the most technical sense, to refer to the CSM bonus scale as “lower” than the S&C bonus scale (although it is a convenient shorthand, which we may continue to use for that reason).

2. Kaye Scholer

In his discussion of the Kaye Scholer bonus announcement, Elie sounded some critical notes. But a number of KS sources came forward, in the comments and by email, to defend their firm. They made the following points:

(a) High-billing associates at Kaye Scholer — i.e., associates with over 2400 hours — did significantly better than their Cravath counterparts. And according to one commenter, “Kaye hours include pro bono and business development,” so “almost everyone gets 2400.”

UPDATE (3 PM): From a different Kaye Scholer source, disagreeing with point (a) above: “Pro bono / client development is CAPPED at 150 hours for bonus purposes. Most associates do NOT hit 2400. Only a handful hit it each year, and this year is no different. Many parts of the firm are slow and a large number of associates didn’t even get 1950 this year.”

(Kaye Scholer folks, I love you guys, but that’s it for the updates. If you have a point you want to make about your bonuses or compensation, please put it in the comments to this post or the prior post. Thanks.)

(b) Members of the class of 2011 have been informed “that they’re ALL getting a pro-rated full ‘Tier One’ bonus, regardless of whether those associates have billed the pro-rated hours. So, that’s an hours-independent bonus prorated off $7,500 $2,500 2011 ‘spring bonus’ (and yes they’re even giving credit for the spring bonus that happened before the new class started).”

(c) Kaye Scholer’s “true up” with respect to 2011 spring bonuses, which Elie criticized as tardy, could have a salutary effect. According to one source, it “may encourage some firms that did not pay spring bonuses to make up for it like KS did.”

So, if you thought that the prior Kaye Scholer report was unduly harsh, please consider these positive observations.

Read on for bonus updates about Quinn Emanuel, Sidley Austin, and Weil Gotshal….

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