David Boies

Today brings news that David Boies, one of the finest trial lawyers of our time, is working for $50 an hour. Who says you can’t afford affordable, high-quality legal representation in this country?

Fortunately, the associates who work for him are taking home quite a bit more. As we alluded to earlier today, Boies Schiller & Flexner just announced — and paid out — some pretty amazing associate bonuses.

Let’s get some numbers and reactions. We also have comments from David Boies himself, who spoke with us this morning about a wide range of subjects — associate bonuses, of course; his firm’s overall performance in 2012, its best year ever; and what the U.S. Supreme Court might do in Hollingsworth v. Perry (aka the Proposition 8 case), which he has been litigating alongside Ted Olson, his opposing counsel from the Bush v. Gore days….

The bountiful Boies bonuses shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows associate compensation. Last year, for example, Elie described them as “shellack[ing]“ the market-setting bonuses of Cravath, David Boies’s former firm. Bonuses at Boies ran as high as $200,000 in 2011.

This year, the Cravath bonuses are significantly better. But bonuses at Boies have kept pace — and then some. Bonuses at BSF topped out at $250,000 this year. Yes, that’s right; a cool quarter of a million.

Here are some data points from the WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.), which first reported the news:

[T]he low end at Boies Schiller is $25,000, and the high end is 10 times that much. Which could make for some interesting paystub comparisons. Here’s the spread for some associate classes, according to the firm:

Class of 2011: $35,000-$125,000
Class of 2010: $25,000-$150,000
Class of 2005: $50,000-$250,000

The comparable Cravath scale amounts are $60,000 (top bonus), $10,000 (class of 2011), $14,000 (class of 2010), and $50,000 (class of 2005). So even the least well-off Boies associate in each of these classes received a bonus equal to or greater than the Cravath bonus. In the class of 2005, for example, the least productive Boies associate received a Cravath-level bonus, while the most productive one received five times the Cravath amount. Wow.

Even class of 2012 members beat the market rate; they received $5,000 each. That’s higher than the pro-rated $10,000 of Cravath, since class of 2012 associates didn’t start work until the fall, or the amount paid by Skadden, a flat $2,500. And don’t forget that Boies base salaries are above-market as well, starting at $174,000 for first-year associates. You can see the full scale here. (The firm has confirmed to us that these base salaries remain in effect.)

The BSF bonuses were announced — and paid (no waiting until December 21) — today. But some associates got early notification of direct-deposit amounts via emails from the payroll company, which is why we started to hear rumblings yesterday. Here are some additional data points from Above the Law readers (to supplement the ones provided above; note that we’re using rough amounts to preserve confidentiality of sources):

Class of 2010: more than $70,000
Class of 2009: a six-figure bonus
Class of 2008: more than $125,000

Our Boies sources sound very, very happy. Even the class of 2012 folks, with their $5,000 stub-year bonuses, are content: “Pretty pleased, but really looking forward to the hours-based motherlode I’ll get as a second-year. After the first year, even reasonably light hours can fetch a $75K bonus.”

Remember, though, that the Boies Schiller compensation system isn’t a standard Biglaw model. As the WSJ put it, bonuses are determined “based on productivity: the number of hours attorneys log, how much they bill, and other factors, such as whether a case taken on contingency ends up delivering a large premium to the firm.” For more detailed explanations of the BSF comp system, see here (explaining that associates essentially get a percentage of the revenue they generate for the firm) and here (explaining why some Boies associates might get additional bonus money in April, amazingly enough).

This morning, thanks to the kindness of BSF’s superb PR team, we spoke by phone with David Boies himself. Keep reading for a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation….


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