Associate Bonus Watch 2012, Biglaw, Bonuses, Money, Paralegals, Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

If Partners Really Have Souls, Bonuses Will Be Early This Year

Let’s not play around this year. Let’s not play the cute little game of waiting for Cravath to set the bonus market and then waiting for everybody to inevitably follow Cravath. Let’s not wait for a few outliers to “beat” Cravath while Cravath thinks about maybe doing spring bonuses.

Lower Manhattan is trying to dry off. New Jersey seemingly washed away. If Biglaw wants to help its own people, it’ll get money into their hands as quickly as possible. That’s what will help people in the Tri-State area recover as they clean up from the storm. Biglaw firms should announce (and pay) their bonuses, as soon as possible, so their associates can have some income certainty (and extra income) as they recover.

And Biglaw should end the miserly, recession-era trend of cutting or canceling staff bonuses. This year all the secretaries and paralegals who are being asked to come in and work under unreasonable circumstances should share in the massive profits generated by their firms.

Let’s not mess around. Get the bonuses, whatever they’re going to be, into the hands of the people who have earned them, so they can more easily manage their own personal disasters…

Look, we’re already within shouting distance of bonus announcements anyway. Last year, Cravath waited until November 28th to offer its (disappointing) bonus numbers. But in years past, Cravath announced earlier. In 2009, for example, Cravath announced bonuses on November 2nd. That’s tomorrow.

So having bonus announcements fall next week wouldn’t be unreasonable or unprecedented.

And while managing partners and executive committees are just as susceptible to the ravages of Hurricane Sandy as anybody else, it shouldn’t be too hard to get all the decision makers on the phone for a quick bonus conversation. Remember, folks, the bonus money has already been budgeted. Cravath already pretty much knows what they’re going to pay, how they’re going to justify it, and how many high fives they can expect from partners around Biglaw. They know the numbers and they have the money; they’re just trying to wait and see how Q4 collections go, to make sure that their partners don’t end up paying any more cents than they absolutely have to.

Other firms are in the same position, but they’re waiting to see what Cravath does so they don’t end up paying too little or (heaven forbid) end up accidentally paying more than Cravath.

Under normal circumstances, it’s fine to play these games, but these aren’t normal circumstances. To steal a line from J.G. Freaking Wentworth: “People need cash now.” Sure, $10,000 is better than $7,500, but $7,500 right now is probably a lot more valuable to people trying to recover from flood damage than $7,500 in the middle of January.

And for staff, the money is even more useful, because they’ve got much less of a margin than your average Biglaw associate. I was at the grocery store yesterday and a woman threw down a head of lettuce because it had been marked up to something unreasonable. I could easily afford a 25 percent mark-up on lettuce (I mean, not that I was buying lettuce, I was there for the pork), but she couldn’t.

The point is, I bet an extra $2,500 this Thanksgiving would be appreciated by Biglaw support staff. Maybe businesses making hundreds of millions of dollars in profit can make that happen?

I’m sure there is some partner out there who had his summer home on the Jersey Shore swept away who is more focused on his own bottom line than the well-being of his employees. That’s fair, or at least to be expected. But that’s why, regardless of what these firms are going to pay out in bonuses, they should pay them out now. Let’s get the bonuses out early. Let’s get the money that we know would eventually be paid anyway into the hands of people who need it now.

That is something Biglaw employers can do to help all their people who are continuing to work through this mess. You could argue that it’s the least they can do.

NYC BigLaw Firms Open, But Lack Lights, Heat, Phones; Downed Trees, Long Lines for Gas Slow Commute [ABA Journal]

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