Associate Bonus Watch 2012, Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Skadden Matches Cravath

Stick a fork in it, because it’s almost done. There’s a high likelihood that the 2012 associate bonus season is complete, at least for all practical purposes, and if so, it will look a lot like past bonus seasons: Cravath leads, and everyone else follows.

“High likelihood,” but not yet a certainty. There’s one major wild card that’s still out: Sullivan & Cromwell, which sometimes takes the lead on associate compensation. Remember, of course, that the 2011 spring bonuses were brought to you by S&C. One could certainly see a scenario in which Sullivan & Cromwell trumps Cravath, in order to get Cravath back for how CSM showed up S&C on spring bonuses.

Unless and until Sullivan & Cromwell beats Cravath, though, we’re playing the usual game of follow Cravath. Let’s check out the latest firm to fall in line….

Remember the Skaddenite who confidently predicted to us that Skadden would “crush” the Cravath bonuses? That person was wrong, unless “crush” is now a synonym for “adopt.”

As close followers of the bonus wars well know, Skadden doesn’t issue a firm-wide memo listing all the amounts given to all the classes. Instead, it issues memos to each class stating the bonus amount for that class.

We don’t have all the data points yet, but so far we have Cravath match confirmations for associates in the classes of 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010. So we’re willing to bet that Skadden has matched Cravath across the board (but let us know ASAP if we’re wrong, and we’ll note that in an update; you can text us, at 646-820-8477, or email us, at

UPDATE (11/30/2012): Two quick notes on the Skadden bonus scale, from Am Law Daily: (1) members of the class of 2012 will get a flat $2,500, as opposed to $10,000 pro-rated for their start dates, and (2) associates more senior than the class of 2004 will also receive $60,000.

How are Skadden associates receiving the news? Here are some reactions:

“[N]ot overly excited, but not as annoyed as I would have been had it been a rehash of 2010 AGAIN.”

“I’m obviously glad that Cravath raised the bar from last year, but not high enough that I’m skipping through the halls or anything.”

“Thanks for not shafting us on the tax issue!”

That last comment would appear to refer to the Weil Gotshal situation. Unlike Weil — which is planning to pay bonuses in January 2013, a move that could hurt some associates from a tax perspective — Skadden will pay out bonuses on December 21 of this year. That’s the same date as Cravath, and a week earlier than Simpson.

So yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Cravath-mas. Now that Simpson and Skadden have matched, it’s quite likely that everyone else will fall in line. There are a number of fine firms that have not yet announced — e.g., Cleary Gottlieb, Davis Polk, Debevoise — but these firms, while extremely prestigious and profitable, historically tend to follow rather than lead on matters of comp.

The only big name that’s outstanding that might move the market is Sullivan & Cromwell. Will “S&C” turn out to be “Santa & Claus,” or will Joe Shenker play the role of Grinch? Stay tuned.

(If you’re interested, you can check out the form memo from executive partner Eric Friedman on the next page.)

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