It appears that the answer to that question is, “You’re welcome.”

If you made a list of people whose opinions matter when it comes to Biglaw bonuses, you couldn’t name ten people more important than Susan Webster. She’s the head of the general corporate practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore. If we knew how much she tipped her doorman, it would be big news.

But we can do better than that.

A tipster let us in on an overheard conversation between Webster and a Biglaw partner at a different firm. When we contacted her, Webster told us that the tipster mischaracterized the nature of her accidentally public conversation.

But why don’t you take a look, and prepare yourself for the possibility of a very sad spring….

Our tipster was in close proximity to Webster and a partner at another Biglaw firm in a public space when the conversation turned to bonuses. We won’t tell you the specific place or the other firm, to protect the identity of the tipster. But here’s the report on that conversation:

Susan Webster of Cravath [while attending] a meeting introduces herself to another Big law partner. [The o]ther partner says, “Oh thanks for the bonus, [it] really was great.” Susan smiles and says, “Yeah I know.” Then she complains about people wanting spring bonuses.

I was standing right next to them, clearly listening, and just shocked that these idiots would say this in a law firm… with an associate present.

This wouldn’t be the first time Biglaw partners expressed thanks for Cravath’s “generosity” around bonus time. When Cravath rolled out these same, low-ball bonuses last year, partners at other firms were just giddy. Remember, it costs a lot for other firms to keep up with Cravath, especially if they aren’t as profitable as CSM.

I spoke with Webster over the phone. She said to me, “The characterization of your report is inaccurate.” I asked her to explain what exactly about the tipster’s characterization was incorrect. I also gave her a chance to clarify her remarks, so that we could have a more accurate understanding of her views on spring bonuses. But she declined to give any additional information; instead, she simply repeated, “The characterization of your report is inaccurate.”

So, take that for what you will. It’s too bad that she wouldn’t say more. If there’s a legitimate argument for why Biglaw bonuses should be the same as last year (or lower than last year if Cravath isn’t going with spring bonuses), I think we’d all like to hear it.

I certainly hope that Susan Webster wasn’t out there opining on what Cravath thought about spring bonuses to a partner at a firm that hadn’t made up its mind yet on spring bonuses. They have a word for those kinds of discussions, which tend to interest antitrust regulators. I hope that all that happened here was one partner thanking another partner for helping him pay his seven-figure mortgage, or buy a diamond ring for a Playboy bunny.

As far as spring bonuses go, I guess we’ll have to wait to hear what partners at Sullivan & Cromwell say when nobody else is around.

Earlier: Lawyerly Lairs: Cravath Cribs (Part 2)
A Cadwalader Partner, His Deaf Daughter, and His Playboy Bunny Ex-Fiancée
Keeping Up With the Cravathians: The Ten Most Generous (or Foolish?) Law Firms
Breaking: Cravath Bonuses Are Out; Welcome to the 2011 Bonus Season!


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