With a few exceptions (including a situation that was remedied), Biglaw associates were fairly happy with their bonuses for 2012. This was largely due to Cravath setting a solid scale for the market.

But happiness is not universal. We’ve heard from several sources who are unhappy with the payouts over at Arnold & Porter. Let’s see what all the fuss is about….

There are a lot of nice things that could be said about A&P. Looking back through our archives, we see lots of women in leadership roles, a partner moving to a top position at the Justice Department, an admirable commitment to diversity, and double-digit increases in revenue and profit.

But is that money making its way down to associates? Some claim that it isn’t. This report is representative of others that we’ve received:

Have you guys gotten tipped yet to Arnold & Porter’s terrible, below-market bonus scale? I can tell you that starting at the 2010 year it is below market for 2000 hours, and beyond that 50% or less of market.

Is that accurate? Let’s have a look at the scale (complete A&P bonus memo on the next page):

So yes, the class of 2010 payout is below market for 2000 hours; A&P pays $10,000, while the Cravath scale provides for $14,000. If you’re in the class of 2010, you’re sub-Cravath even at 2200 hours. You have to rack up 2400 hours, no small feat, to beat the Cravath scale. To refresh your recollection, this is the Cravath scale:

Class of 2004 — $60,000
Class of 2005 — $50,000
Class of 2006 — $40,000
Class of 2007 — $34,000
Class of 2008 — $27,000
Class of 2009 — $20,000
Class of 2010 — $14,000
Class of 2011 — $10,000
Class of 2012 — $10,000 (pro-rated)

In general, you need to rack up 2400 hours at A&P to match or beat Cravath. That’s a lot of hours — especially given that, according to our latest hours survey, the median associate bills somewhere between 2000 and 2100 hours. It would be fair to call this scale “below market.” Put another way, the “base” bonus, for 2000 hours, is 50 percent (or less) of what you’d get at a firm on the New York scale.

And don’t forget: unlike lockstep firms like Cravath, A&P doesn’t pay bonuses to all (or almost all) associates. According to the memo, reprinted in full on the next page, “[a]pproximately 66% of all Firm associates will be receiving bonuses” for 2012 work — meaning that a third got zilch.

Of course, complaints about compensation at Arnold & Porter are nothing new. Last year, we described the Arnold & Porter bonuses as “underwhelming” (which was understated compared to one source’s characterization of them as “insulting”).

But look, as we’ve said before, Biglaw isn’t all about the benjamins. There are so many other factors to consider when picking a firm. What type of work does the firm do, and does it line up with your interests? What is the firm culture like? Do you enjoy the company of your colleagues? Does the firm have a commitment to diversity? What about pro bono work?

Based on these criteria, A&P has a lot going for it. But if your goal is maximizing your income relative to the hours you work, you should probably look elsewhere.

(You can flip to the next page to see the complete Arnold & Porter bonus memo.)


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