Today everyone’s talking tech, thanks to Facebook’s upcoming IPO. In light of how Silicon Valley is dominating the news cycle, it seems fitting to discuss the recent bonus and salary news from Wilson Sonsini — one of SV’s top firms, and counsel over the years to many startup companies turned tech giants.

(But not Facebook, at least with respect to the IPO. That’s being handled by Fenwick & West and Simpson Thacher.)

So what kind of bonuses did WSGR just announce? Let’s find out….

The Wilson Sonsini bonus memos went out a few days ago, on January 26. We received copies of the memos for Palo Alto and New York, which appear to be identical. They’re reprinted on the next page.

(We suspect that the memos for some of the smaller offices may differ. As one source reminded us, “Last year, when salaries were unfrozen in April, the Seattle and Austin offices were kept on a lower pay scale than the other offices.”)

Here’s the key language from the Palo Alto and New York memos:

Consistent with previously established criteria, the merit bonus program provides for hours-based awards to eligible attorneys who achieved 1,900, 2,100, or 2,400 hours over the course of the 2011 calendar year. In addition to the hours-based component, attorneys also may receive a discretionary amount based on work quality and overall contribution to the firm….

This year’s total bonuses range from a maximum of $15,000 for eligible associates from the class of 2010 to a maximum of $62,500 for eligible associates from the 2004 and earlier classes.

So the top Wilson Sonsini bonuses beat the Cravath scale. As you may recall, under the CSM scale, the class of 2010 got $7,500 and the class of 2004 got $37,500. (Lawyers at Cravath above the class of 2004 in senority get individually determined bonuses.)

Of course, firms can play number games when they provide just maximum bonus information, without mean or median bonus information. How were the Wilson Sonsini bonuses actually received by associates?

For the most part, the people we’ve heard from seem pleased. One source, who achieved the 1900-hour mark, reported receiving the Cravath amount for their year. Since the 1900-hour mark was the lowest bonus threshold, it seems reasonable to infer that many of the associates who did receive bonuses got the Cravath scale or better.

“I know [people in my fairly junior associate class] were quite happy,” another tipster told us. “Apparently, WSGR realized one of the best financial years in the firm’s history, with record revenue and productivity, according to a previous memorandum sent by our CEO. It’s nice that it cares about its associates enough to spread the wealth!”

That’s good to hear — but, before anyone disappointed with his or her bonus sends us a complaint, we note that it’s just one person’s opinion. If you have a different opinion about Wilson Sonsini bonuses, you can voice it in the comments.

As for the base salaries discussed in the memo, there’s nothing exciting to report. In Palo Alto and New York, WSGR associates are on the standard $160K scale.

What does the future hold for Wilson Sonsini? Note that it’s a time of transition for the firm: about two weeks before the bonus news, WSGR announced that Douglas Clark and John Sheridan would take over as co-managing partners (from Steven Bochner, who has returned to full-time practice).

The Wilson Sonsini bonus memos were issued under the names of Doug Clark and Jack Sheridan. So if you’re at WSGR and happy with your bonus, feel free to direct your gratitude to the new management.

(You can view those memos in full on the next page.)


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