Biglaw, Billable Hours, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Muted Reaction At Latham & Watkins

Congratulations to the Latham & Watkins lawyers who participated in Movember. In November 2013, Team Latham raised more than $7,000 to fight testicular and prostate cancer. Movember might have hurt Procter & Gamble’s bottom line, but it helped raise awareness of important issues in men’s health.

And congrats to Latham lawyers on their 2013 bonuses. The bonuses were announced last Friday and will be paid this Friday.

(Yes, law firm season rolls on, even though it’s past its peak. We’re working on a few bonus stories but need additional data points on some firms — e.g., WilmerHale. If you can help us out, please email us or text us: 646-820-8477.)

If you want to see a bunch of Latham lawyers sporting facial here, click here. If you want information about Latham bonuses, including but not limited to the firm’s bonus memo, keep reading….

Last year, reaction to Latham bonuses was mixed, and the same could be said this year. That’s what you generally get under a system of individualized bonuses (unless the bonuses are extremely generous or extremely stingy).

This year, though, the Latham reactions seem… mellower. Last year, some Latham lawyers were quite happy and some were quite angry; this year, people seem a bit blasé. Commonly expressed sentiments included “no complaints” and “no surprises.” This comment summarizes matters well:

Cravath sealed our fate — once they came out at the same level, we were bound to get stuck with pretty much the same number. Thank goodness for the lockstep; otherwise I would’ve ended up with the same figure as last year.

This was the closest people came to enthusiasm:

I was pleased with my bonus. My hours were [comfortably] over the minimum, but not through the roof. I got a bonus that was [almost 25%] above market.

And this was the closest people came to anger:

People not pleased with bonuses (shocker). Feels more like a “tip.” Or a bonus you give your maid — i.e., a week’s pay.

That might sound angry, but people last year were angrier (see the last blockquote).

The main cause for complaint seems to be the size of payments for additional associate time:

Opinion is we’re underpaid…. They’re saying our time is worth $10 an hour [over base]? I should have gotten a job at McDonald’s in that spare time.

What spare time? You’re a Biglaw associate. The partners have you where they want you. Or, viewed more charitably, the “rewards” for working longer hours are non-monetary (e.g., reputational; you’re a “star associate” who will either make partner or, more likely, move on to some great post-Latham opportunity).

In fairness to Latham, calculating the marginal value of associate time presents problems for other firms at bonus time. See, e.g., Quinn Emanuel (“Do the partners think QE associates are so bad at math that they won’t see the bonus tiers are basically $10 an hour over 2100?”).

At the end of the day, Latham & Watkins is one of the world’s great law firms — great at serving clients, and great at treating associates well. And for some associates, that might have to be reward enough.

(Flip to the next page for the complete Latham bonus memo, which contains data on median bonuses, top bonuses, and bonus distribution for 2013. If you compare it to last year’s memo, you’ll see they’re quite similar. Median bonuses for 2013 seem slightly higher overall compared to 2012, especially for junior associates, although that wasn’t true of every class year. As for top bonuses, for 2013 they ranged from $22,000 to $93,500, compared to a range for 2012 of $25,000 to $93,500 — but again, note the variation from class to class.)

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