Associate Bonus Watch 2009

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Out of nowhere, Cahill Gordon & Reindel has decided to give out a mid-year bonus. Not Cravath, not S&C, but Cahill Gordon. The same Cahill Gordon that is one of the few firms to have significant layoffs in 2010. This is the firm that could push the market towards mid-year bonuses?

Apparently so. A tipster reported the bonus scale to Above the Law. It’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s something….

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Last year, while law firms were still feeling the worst of the recession, Sullivan & Cromwell provided some springtime cheer to its associates. The firm paid a spring bonus in 2009. The payment was less than the one the firm made in 2008, but still, it was extra money in 2009. At the time, we reported:

[N]ews is now trickling in about the special bonus S&C paid out late last week. Last year, the spring bonus was as much as $30,000 for eighth-year associates.

This year, sources report that eighth-year associates topped out at $8,500. For first-year associates, the spring bonus was $500.

All indications are that the legal economy is better off now than it was in 2009. Will the fledgling recovery lead to a better spring bonus for SullCrom attorneys this year?

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Back in February, we wrote about various compensation developments over at Pillsbury Winthrop. At the time, the firm said it was considering moving away from a lockstep model in favor of a more performance-based compensation system.

The firm has not yet killed killed lockstep — a move that has historically generated mixed to negative reviews from associates at other firms. Instead, it has done something that has proven much more popular.

Last month, the Pillsbury dough boy baked up some delicious-smelling pay raises. Nothin’ says lovin’ like money from the oven!

So, what are the details?

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This morning, the Lawyer reported that Clifford Chance was changing the requirements for associate bonuses in London:

Clifford Chance is set for a radical overhaul of its associate bonus system, with the maximum award now open only to senior associates and payments no longer based primarily on hours worked….

A spokesperson for ­Clifford Chance said: “While billable and investment hours continue to be ­important, the bonus will not be directly linked to achieving a target number of hours. We’ll weigh a ­number of factors to ensure a balanced and flexible bonus scheme.”

Dear Lord, it looks like the American epidemic of moving towards merit-based compensation just hopped a transatlantic flight.

But don’t worry Clifford Chance New Yorkers, your bonus requirements will not be affected by the changes in London…

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During the recession, Mintz Levin froze associate salaries and deferred 2009 summer associates all the way until 2012. Not good times.

But the recession is starting to lift its death grip on law firms and the lawyers who work there, and Mintz Levin is in the mood to share the wealth. We spoke with Mintz Levin Managing Partner Robert Bodian today. He told us that the firm enjoyed a strong fiscal year — which ended this past Saturday:

Revenue and profits per partner were up around 3% [last year].

He said that work was picking up and the second half of last year was good for the firm.

Which means it’s time to give some money back to the hard working Mintz Levin associates…

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For two weeks we’ve been getting reports about Paul Hastings bonuses. Many people claim that they received bonuses on par with the Cravath scale. But there have been a dedicated few who claim they were jobbed by the firm at bonus time. This tipster captures the general feeling:

PH bonuses were just announced [last month] and some crazy stuff has been going on. The top performers are getting totally screwed as PH has a bonus grid and is not allowing anyone to go off of that set chart. The result is that the best people with the strongest evals and tons of hours are getting barely any more different than their peers who did the bare minimum. There are some extreme and specific examples.

We’ve been able to solve the mystery. Paul Hastings gave out Cravath-level bonuses in all of their offices except Atlanta. In Atlanta Paul Hastings tried to match the Atlanta market for total compensation — which resulted in bonuses below the Cravath scale. The firm gave us details on its decision….

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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGMarch is almost over (and tomorrow is the official start of spring), but law firm bonus news continues to trickle in. Yesterday, for example, we covered Mayer Brown. Today we bring you Baker Botts (Houston).

As far as associates were concerned, it was about time:

Baker Botts in Houston finally announced bonuses for 2009. People were getting very upset about how long it was taking, and the partners were very aware of that fact.
For the most part, bonuses were slightly higher than most people were expecting.

Perhaps Baker Botts can afford to be generous; work is definitely coming in the door these days. The firm is representing Dominion Resources, which is being acquired for $3.48 billion by Consol Energy, and Schlumberger LTD., which is merging with Smith International. And Baker Botts has been raking in big bucks from bankruptcy work too.

So, how big were the Baker Botts bonuses?

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(And other Baker Botts / Houston law firm news.)

Chapman logo.jpgLate last week, Chicago based Chapman & Cutler released its 2009 bonus news. It’s not that impressive. But the firm also previewed what it will pay in bonuses for 2010. It’s … not that impressive. A tipster reports:

[T]his year the vast majority of associates did not receive any bonus whatsoever. So apples to apples, we fell way short of our competition (which management likes to tout as Mayer Brown but in reality is other second-tier Chicago firms). As an encore, they have already released next year’s bonus numbers and they’re still low for our peer group. They have the nerve to note they are meeting the 2008 bonuses like it’s a good thing, which is ridiculous as those bonuses too were low since they went out just after the economic crash. As upset as we are, I would be irate if I were a second year. Though it’s somewhat hidden in the memo, they have decided to completely eliminate all hours-based bonuses for second years.

Actually, screwing over second-years is not at all buried in the memo. Chapman makes it pretty clear….

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King Spalding logo.jpgThe past few weeks have brought a fair amount of news about King & Spalding. Some of it has been good — e.g., adding talent from Orrick. And some of it has been bad — e.g., getting benchslapped (and disqualified from a case) by the Federal Circuit.
This week also brought compensation news to King & Spalding. The information has been a long time coming. Back in February, a K&S source told us:

King & Spalding continues to leave its associates in the dark with respect to 2009 bonuses and 2010 salaries. Back in September we were all demoted one year, and the Atlanta office salaries were slashed by an additional $10k. On top of that, our salaries are frozen and we received no increase on January 1st as we normally receive. Currently 1st, 2nd and 3rd year associates in Atlanta all make the same salary ($135,000). We were told late last year that we would receive bonuses for 2009, but no announcement has been made with respect to the amounts of those bonuses which have typically been paid at the end of February each year.

On Tuesday, associates at the firm received their bonus and salary info. And some of them were pleasantly surprised….

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Bingham McCutchen new logo Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgWhen you step into the killing lockstep zone, your bonus disappears into a black box. A while back, we reported that Bingham McCutchen adopted a lockstep-merit hybrid approach to associate compensation. Base salary would still be lockstep, but the bonus would be merit-based.

When we reported on the Bingham bonus, we noted that the firm intended to pay bonuses generally on the Cravath scale to its associates, based on a number of merit-based factors instead of hours.

But now our tipsters are telling us that some Bingham associates received much less than a Cravath-level payout:

A peek inside the black box, bonuses are generally well below the Cravath scale. The only associates receiving bonuses in the vicinity of the Cravath scale are those that exceeded the 2,100 hour minimum by a few hundred hours. Even bonuses in those instances were barely above the Cravath scale. Amazing considering JayZ just told the Boston Globe that the firm “had our best year ever.” Guess we know where all that money went. Morale is definitely at an all-time low. I would be shocked to see any associates making much of an effort to bill above the 2,100 hour minimum in 2010. I think “why bother” has become the most uttered phrase around the halls of Bingham over the last week.

“JayZ” refers to Bingham Chairman Jay S. Zimmerman, not the talented Mr. Shawn Carter.

But I suppose you could put Zimmerman’s positive outlook about the firm into a rap song …

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