Biglaw, Bonuses, Money, Perks / Fringe Benefits

Skadden’s Spring Bonus? Gift Cards For Associates!

I think we can say that the notion of spring bonuses is officially dead. It’s already June, and the summer solstice is right around the corner. The lockstep Biglaw firms are just not going to be paying spring bonuses this year.

But spring/summer tips are still alive and well. When Sullivan & Cromwell announced its spring bonuses, I wrote, “This isn’t a bonus, it’s a tip.” S&C paid its associates between $1,000 and $5,000 this spring, a sum that is really a tip when you are a Biglaw Manhattan attorney.

Now Skadden is getting into the tip-giving game. The partners there are digging deep into their pockets and coming up with some loose change to dispense to their associates. If you work really hard at Skadden, you might just get a gift card! (Hey, it’s more than what Cravath is doing.)

So how much are we talking about?

A new program at Skadden allows partners to make “gifts” to high performing associates. Here’s the pertinent part of the email that was sent to all SASMF partners (reprinted in full on the next page):

We are pleased to launch a new program to provide you with a tangible means of expressing appreciation to your associates and counsel for exceptional efforts and performance. The Firm will be making $200 American Express gift cards available. While recognizing that there will and should be a fair degree of subjectivity in determining who should receive an “appreciation gift card”, the following guidelines should be considered….

Though we do not plan to impose strict limitations in terms of how often or how many gifts you may give, these gifts are intended to be something special, an unexpected recognition of exceptional efforts and performance. Please keep this in mind as you make your requests.

Surprise! Oh, did we ruin it? Well, you can see the full email on the next page, replete with details on the “guidelines” about what associates will have to do in order to get their hands on a precious, $200 gift card.

Doesn’t this remind anybody of when your grandmother gives you a birthday card and there’s a check for $20 in it? You have to smile and say “oh thank you so much” because it’s your grandmother, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about how you would pay somebody twenty bucks to deal with the hassle of going to the bank to deposit the check.

Maybe that’s just me. My colleague David Lat is impressed with Skadden’s behavior.

“It’s a nice gesture,” he said to me this morning. “And you don’t see Cravath or Davis or Simpson doing this (as far as we know). So good on Skadden. This really puts them in the top 10 percent of Biglaw, since so few firms — I can think of S&C and Quinn Emanuel — are giving their associates anything on top of the regular base salary and bonus.”

In 2008, Skadden doubled Cravath’s bonus. They doubled it. Now, four years later, Skadden’s largesse is expressed with $200 gift cards. Given to selected, high-performing associates.

Oh, and in case you were wondering about the toll the recession took on Skadden, Skadden’s gross revenue in 2007 was $2,170,000,000 and revenue per lawyer that year was $1,170,000, according to the American Lawyer. Skadden’s gross revenue in 2011 was $2,165,000,000 and revenue per lawyer last year was $1,180,000, again according to Am Law. It sure seems like some people must be enjoying the recovery.

Here’s a question: if a billion-dollar business is giving its associates gift cards, what are the secretaries and administrative staff getting? A “good job” pat on the ass?

But I digress. When you receive a tip, you are supposed to say “thank you.” as in the sentence, “Thank you sir, may I have another.”

I might not have come to this post to praise Skadden, but I did come to bury Cravath. You remember them, Cravath? The former market leaders have turned so miserly that if they were doing this, we’d be talking about $200 on a Discover card.

Click through to see the full email to the domestic Skadden partnership. And if you’re a high-performing associate or counsel at Skadden, don’t spend your “bonus” all in one place.

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