Biglaw, Bonuses, Money

Associate Bonus Watch: Wilson Sonsini Bursts Hopes Like So Many Tech Bubbles

Businessman has lost moneyWilson Sonsini banks its reputation on its business acumen. They’re the wheeler-dealer venture capitalists with their finger on the pulse of the lucrative tech market. When the tech industry is riding high, Wilson Sonsini makes money hand over fist. When times are harder, Wilson Sonsini tends to suffer more than the rest.

Back in 2001, Wilson Sonsini ranked 19th in the Am Law 100. Last year, Wilson Sonsini clocked in at 56. Not a paragon of stability.

But no matter what’s going on with the market, Wilson Sonsini is still an Am Law 100 firm. It’s still bringing in profits per partner somewhere around $1.8 million. Bottom line, it’s still a wildly successful firm with a lot of cash at its disposal. Money that you’d think it would give to its associates after another successful year.

But you’d be wrong.

Maybe it’s the venture capitalist mindset, but Wilson Sonsini isn’t afraid to buck the system, even if the price of being a rebel is signaling to prospective associates that Wilson Sonsini is going to pay below market.

How much below the market? Well, according to its bonus memo — released yesterday — quite a bit below for most of its associates.

Wilson Sonsini employs a tiered bonus system at 1900, 2100, and 2400 hours. One might think that with such a system, those billing 2400 hours would be getting a sweetheart bonus above and beyond the market, but you’d be wrong. No, 2400 hours were required to get up to the Davis Polk scale — and for some classes, 2400 hours doesn’t even reach the Davis Polk scale.

As a reminder, the DPW scale is as follows:

2014: 15K (prorated)
2013: 15K
2012: 25K
2011: 50K
2010: 65K
2009: 80K
2008: 90K
2007: 100K

Meanwhile, here’s what Wilson Sonsini is offering:



Comp Year

Median Award

High Award


























2007 and more senior



So the aggressive 4th years and 7th years get the short end of the stick by $5,000 and $10,000 respectively. But that’s just the high billers. The median number is far more troubling. Let’s run a quick comparison of the DPW scale to the Wilson Sonsini median:

2013: Short by $2,500
2012: Short by $3,750
2011: Short by $5,000
2010: Short by $15,000
2009: Short by $15,000
2008: Short by $14,000
2007: Short by $20,000

Damn damn damn. Curmudgeons can say that low billers deserve what they get, but who’s to blame for low billing? It’s not the 4th year who failed to bring in enough business to fill their day. And when the new PPP numbers come out in a few months, I don’t expect we’ll see a lot of the partners responsible for bringing in that business taking much of a haircut on their compensation.

Sure, there are deadweight associates in the world, but if you’re justifying a median bonus five-figures off market, you probably should just fire all your associates and start over because you clearly have no faith in their skills.

Check out the full memo on the next page….

(hidden for your protection)

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