Bonuses, Money, Small Law Firms

The Practice: BREAKING NEWS — There Is No Breaking Small Firm/Solo Bonus News

Prior to discussing my topic this week, I’d like a moment with Mr. Big Shot what’s-his-name “Lat,” and that idiot Mystic, or whatever her name is, about my arrangement here. I would appreciate if consideration could be given to not posting my important prose on the same day that news breaks about the amount of end-of-year welfare money given to a bunch of crybaby, self-entitled, snot nosed, sit-in-your-office and overbill clients you’ve never met for work you’ve done six times on another “matter,” I hate my life Biglaw drones who couldn’t make a coherent legal argument to a meter maid.

Thank you.

Now on to more important matters….

The Small Firm bonus memos are out and it appears that many are happy to have some extra coin to make a few car payments, and buy a new suit or two for when they have to go to court and conduct real business* (*sorry, motions to compel are not “real business.”). Also good news, many small firm lawyers are not going to have to go into debt to lease a new car for the wife to drive around to various lunches and pretend that “Bob is just doing so well at (insert Biglaw firm name, preferably one that has its name on a building), yeah, yeh know he just made paht-nah.”

If you are just googly-eyed at the notion of a $37,500 bonus given to a Biglaw ingrate, and let’s face it, if you are a small firm lawyer, you are, here are some ways you can turn that frown upside down:

Realize that outside of Biglaw, money can buy happiness

What are you going to do with 37k anyway? Isn’t it more fun to take, let’s say $2,000, and blow it on something ridiculous? For you solos out there, look at the bank account on December 15. What’s in there? Nothing? Oh, sorry. But let’s say there’s money in there to pay the bills for the rest of the year and have some to start next year (if you have a Starbuck’s office, your bills will be $1.70 a day for the rest of the year, plus whatever you owe your social media expert). So you take the 2k and just go nuts. I mean, you can’t go that nuts, but just think, the last time a Biglaw associate took 2k and blew it, well, that probably resulted in some jail time or an embarrassing talk with the wife. So take $2,000 and blow it. Nothing to worry about, you know you’re getting another 10 or 15 cases this month from that awesome social media “why isn’t my law firm on the first page of Google” strategy that’s been kicking ass for you.

If you have staff

Listen, times have changed. Your secretary (sorry, “assistant,” or “administrative assistant to (insert your name)”) and receptionist no longer hold you hostage by the vast number of ads in the daily lawyer rag advertising jobs. No one is hiring. They are stuck with you, and they know it. Hand them a check with one or two weeks’ pay plus a $500 gift card, and tell them how happy you are that they have a job. Give them an extra paid day off. Tell them you are glad you don’t have to let them go, at this time.

If you employ an associate

Lawyers interpret bonuses as “this is what I think you are worth.” The problem with lawyers is that they always think they are worth more than they are paid. I certainly do, and I know you think I am as well. Most of you are probably worth much less than you are paid, especially if you are at Biglaw.

Today’s lawyer needs a hug. A real big bear hug. If you want your associate to be okay with their bonus — show them the numbers. C’mon, do it. It’s no big secret. You don’t think the receptionist has incoming checks lying around on the desk by mistake, do you? Associates know. So whatever you decide to give must include a hug conversation. You must tell them they are the greatest human alive, and that you want them there forever, and do the whole B.S “we’re going to make a lot of money together.”

If you really like your associate, sacrifice your own bonus. A good percentage to give as a bonus is 5-10% of salary. You may also want to consider a smaller bonus and a raise if your cash is tight — like if you’ve got a few unemployed law school graduates living at home eating Cheetos in the basement and spending their days anonymously commenting on blogs.

Now you can all go back to waiting for the next Biglaw bonus news with the razor blade in hand, because I agree: IT’S JUST NOT FAIR.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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