Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Cleary Gottlieb

We’ve seen a surprising amount of drama emanate from the normally hushed halls of One Liberty Plaza in 2013. Cleary Gottlieb, one of Biglaw’s best firms, has been the site of contention and controversy regarding irate ex-staffers, support staff stealth layoffs, and a summer associate with a dark past.

Some of our Cleary readers and sources have objected to this coverage as painting a misleading picture of goings-on at CGSH. Their general view: all this drama is limited to the ranks of support staff — who have been coddled over the years, and are finally now being forced to be more productive. When it comes to the lawyers at Cleary, it’s business as usual.[1]

Is it “business as usual” with respect to associate bonuses? Cleary just announced….

And, in news that should shock absolutely no one, it matched Cravath’s 2013 bonus scale. Even though it is one of Biglaw’s most prestigious and profitable firms, Cleary tends to follow rather than lead when it comes to compensation.

Last year, Cleary paid out slightly earlier than Cravath, helpful to holiday shoppers. This year, Cleary is copying Cravath’s payment date of Friday, December 20.

How do Cleary associates feel about their bonuses? Said one of our sources: “I side with Elie in the debate on whether these are sufficient.”

A different tipster told us: “Cleary will never lead the market, so it’s not surprising that it matched Cravath. It is a little surprising that it didn’t wait for S&C.”

Indeed. When it comes to challenging the compensation dominance of Cravath, House Shenker (or should it still be House Rodge?) is the strongest contender. Recall that it was Sullivan & Cromwell’s generous 2011 spring bonuses that ignited a trend that spread throughout Biglaw.

With all due respect to Davis Polk and Debevoise, also fabulous firms, nobody expects them to top Cravath. Maybe we could see something from Simpson Thacher — remember that, back in 2007, STB led the charge to a starting salary of $160,000.

But if people like our disappointed Cleary tipster have any realistic hope for better bonuses, they should really be looking to 125 Broad Street.

[1] As for that mysterious partner departure, Kristofer Hess is now a self-described “man of leisure.” There’s nothing terribly unusual about a Biglaw partner taking an early retirement to enjoy his millions. Hess is a bit on the young side for retirement — he’s class of 1997 from U. Chicago — but we hear he has family money.

Earlier: Summer Drama At Cleary Gottlieb
A Mysterious Partner Departure — Plus Stealth Layoffs? — at Cleary Gottlieb
Top Law Firm Fires Summer Associate After Learning Of His Criminal Past
Associate Bonus Watch: Cleary Gottlieb and Proskauer Rose Match Cravath (2012)

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