Associate Bonus Watch 2011, Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Latham Bonus Out, No Word on Spring Bonuses

Well, spring bonuses are officially late. Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21. Here we are on January 23rd, and we’re still waiting.

It’s too early to worry. Cravath essentially check-raised S&C with spring bonuses last year. There’s a good chance S&C is just trying to figure out how to avoid having that happen again.

I still think spring bonuses will be coming. There are just too many firms paying out more than Cravath in terms of bonus. Cravath partners might be getting high fives from partners around Biglaw for helping to keep bonuses low. But there are so many firms blowing past Cravath (and Cravath followers) that, eventually, the very smart people Cravath hires will wake up and realize they can make more money elsewhere.

The latest firm to make Cravath bonuses look small is Latham & Watkins. Their median bonus is especially more generous than CSM’s as people become midlevel or senior associates….

The one thing we’ve really seen this bonus season is that firms are really beating Cravath and Cravath followers at more senior levels. While the CSM scale tops out at $37,500 for the class of 2004, we’ve seen a number of firms — led by Sullivan & Cromwell — adopt a $42,500 bonus for people in the class of 2003.

UPDATE (1/25/12): Of course, as we’ve previously explained, whether S&C “beat” Cravath is debatable, since the most senior non-partner lawyers at Cravath have individually determined bonuses.

At many non-lockstep firms, the beating of Cravath has been taken to all class levels, but it’s particularly noticeable at more senior levels. The market seems to be saying that first- and second-year attorneys aren’t worth all that much in this economy, but midlevels who survived the layoffs of 2009 are now worth some extra cash.

Latham isn’t a lockstep firm, but tipsters and a spokesperson for Latham & Watkins confirmed this scale of median bonus numbers by class year at the firm:

Class of 2010 — $8,000
Class of 2009 — $11,500
Class of 2008 — $21,000
Class of 2007 — $29,000
Class of 2006 — $35,000
Class of 2005 — $42,000
Class of 2004 — $51,000
Class of 2003 — $54,000

That’s not bad. Especially in a world where Cravath is being stubborn about spring bonuses. But they can’t hold out forever. It’s like trying to win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith as your quarterback. If Cravath wants to be ELIte, they’re going to have to look for an upgrade when it comes to bonuses.

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of bonuses

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