Biglaw, Bonuses, Cheapness, Kasowitz Benson, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Bogus ‘Benchmark’ Bonuses At Kasowitz Benson?

Years ago, back when I was in Biglaw, I had an unpleasant interaction with Kasowitz Benson. I will spare you the details — they involved who would pay the costs for photocopying certain documents (in the ancient days before e-discovery) — but the Kasowitz lawyer made a promise that she did not honor. I thought to myself, “Watch out when dealing with Kasowitz Benson.”

That’s probably wise advice — not just for folks litigating with Kasowitz, but also for people applying to work there. Last year, we covered KBTF’s exploding offers during fall recruiting and cold offers to summer associates — practices that are frowned upon, to put it mildly.

And now we have new allegations of shadiness at Kasowitz, this time coming from people already working at the firm as full-time associates. They involve the hot-button subject of associate bonuses….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)

Earlier this month, we wrote about and posted the Kasowitz Benson bonus announcement. The memo made it sound like Kasowitz was matching the market — which would make sense, given Kasowitz’s ample prestige and profitability.

The KBTF bonus memo dutifully reprinted the Cravath bonus scale. The memo then noted that “the above are benchmark amounts which are subject to adjustment to reflect individual performance and hours worked,” but that sounded like fine print.

Well, lawyers, don’t overlook the fine print. Here is what one tipster tells us:

Just wanted to alert you to the complete sham that is the Kasowitz “benchmark” bonus memos — designed to give the appearance of paying market — that went around a few weeks ago. They chopped nearly everyone’s bonus off those “benchmark” numbers, unless you billed over 2400 hours, apparently.

A sampling of approximately 20 associates resulted in 2 (out of 20) getting the benchmark amount. Everyone I spoke to who billed over 2100 hours (but not 2400) got docked anywhere from 10-30%. In a few cases, they docked someone’s bonus by [a small amount] off the benchmark number even though they were a little over 2100 hours — to prove a point? This place is cheap, cheap, cheap. Our reviews are not conducted until February, so you can’t point to those as a reason bonuses were adjusted.

Said a second source:

Kasowitz individual bonus letters came out yesterday. Firm paid well below benchmarks set. Everyone got a drastic haircut without any reason why.

As for the “why,” it might have more to do with firm rather than individual performance:

Rumor has it that firm did not have a good year.

Interestingly enough, one associate predicted the shafting. Here’s the comment from our prior post:

[Kasowitz] will never do anything above the accepted minimum throughout the market. That said, if you didn’t either (a) hit whatever unofficial hours requirement they have in mind this year (they never tell us), or (b) have a connection to the boss himself [Marc Kasowitz aka “Uncle Marc”], you can expect a drastic cut off those benchmark numbers.

We reached out yesterday to Kasowitz Benson for comment on the bonus complaints, but the firm has not yet responded. If and when they do, we’ll update this story. (We are happy to update bonus stories with new information; note the multiple updates added to our recent posts about associate bonuses at WilmerHale and Wilson Sonsini.)

So watch out when dealing with Kasowitz Benson. Even if you work there.

UPDATE (4:40 p.m.): The firm has its defenders. For example:

I’m a midlevel associate, somewhere in the 4-6 year range, let’s say. Every year here I have received the amount of bonus indicated on the letter “Uncle Marc” sends around. I have never billed 2400 hours. I do not have any special connections with any power players here, including Marc. I am not the hardest-working associate here. I do not have any of my own clients. But, I always have gotten Cravath-scale market bonus, including this year. Bottom line is if you play the game, put time in and get your work done, treat people well, and other really straightforward, non-rocket-science-y stuff, you will get the full bonus. There really isn’t any magic to it. I hope you present this side of the story as well. Thanks.

UPDATE (1/31/2014, 3:10 p.m.): From another pro-Kasowitz voice:

I completely understand people’s frustrations with bonuses this year. With that said, a lot of people complaining are the ones who didn’t meet their hours. I didn’t bill “2400 hours,” as one of my colleagues suggested is the requirement, but got the full bonus amount. In all my years here, I think there may have been one time it was knocked down by a drop because I was under 2100 hours.

I disagree with the tone of this story that Kasowitz is “cheap.” It’s a great place to work at. Most people are great to work with and they treat their associates with respect. Unfortunately, there are people at the firm that have entitlement issues and think they deserve full bonuses while putting in less hours than others.

An associate at Kasowitz with entitlement issues? That is Berry unbelievable….

Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch: Kasowitz Associates Reap Rewards For Their Superior Legal Minds

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