Biglaw, Billable Hours, Bonuses, Money, Silicon Valley

Associate Bonus Watch: Discontent At Wilson Sonsini?

When we recently ranked top law firms based on responses to the ATL Insider Survey, readers raved about Wilson Sonsini, which took the #5 spot on our list of the top 12 firms. According to one respondent, the firm boasts “entrepreneurial meritocracy, the best client base, endless opportunities, and smart helpful people. It is a unique place, perfect for the self-motivated overachiever.”

In terms of the five specific survey metrics, Wilson fared best in the compensation department. On a 10-point scale, WSGR scored an impressive 8.73 (out of 10) in terms of satisfaction with pay. (The firm’s other scores: 8.63 for culture, 8.33 for training, 7.80 for morale, and 7.33 for hours.)

But will Wilson Sonsini be able to maintain its high score on the comp front? Not everyone is happy with the firm’s latest bonuses….

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

The firm announced bonuses yesterday via a firm-wide memo from managing partners Doug Clark and Jack Sheridan (reprinted in full on the next page). The overall approach is consistent with prior years, with billable-hours cutoffs at the 1900-, 2100, and 2400-hour marks:

As you know, merit bonuses reflect both an attorney’s individual performance and the firm’s overall financial performance. Consistent with previously established criteria, the merit bonus program provides for hours-based awards to eligible attorneys who achieved 1,900, 2,100, or 2,400 hours over the course of the 2013 calendar year. In addition to the hours-based component, attorneys also may receive a discretionary amount based on their work quality and overall contribution to the firm.

The actual bonus numbers, however, appear to be somewhat lower than in prior years. Two years ago, the top bonuses at WSGR ranged from $15,000 for the most-junior associates to $62,500 for the most-senior associates. This year, the top bonuses go from $10,000 for the most-junior associates to $60,000 to the most-senior associates.

Here is how one Wilson Sonsini associate received the news:

Not happy — the firm had the most profitable year ever, yet is paying bonuses that are lower than last year, and far below peer firms. WSGR only reports the maximum bonus amount for class year 1 and the maximum amount for the highest class year. The top bonus (which is only available to some lucky person in the class of 2004) is only $60k, far less than the base bonus amount at other firms for a comparable year, and much much much less than the top bonus amount at other firms (e.g., Latham’s top bonus was $93.5k).

Reporting only the top bonus also hides the fact that all other associates besides the one who gets the $60k are getting far less, far below market, despite the fact that the firm had the most profitable year ever. Good luck keeping the talent, guys.

Wilson Sonsini associates, do you agree or disagree with this tipster? Let us know.

UPDATE (1/29/2014, 12:15 p.m.): Some folks agree — see the comments to this post — and others disagree. “I billed a bit over the first-tier minimum and got a market bonus for my year,” one tipster told us. “No real complaints here.”

UPDATE (1/29/2014, 2:25 p.m.): From another happy camper: “I received $60k (above market) and understand multiple others my year did too. Suggest changing the headline — we’re happy.”

If you have information or opinion about the WSGR bonuses — or any other Biglaw bonus announcement, especially those we have not yet covered (cough cough, WilmerHale) — please feel free to post in the comments, email us, or text us (646-820-8477). Thanks.

(Flip to the next page to read the complete Wilson Sonsini bonus memo.)

(hidden for your protection)

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