Associate Bonus Watch 2010

In late December 2010, the elite California law firm of Irell & Manella announced 2010 year-end bonuses that reportedly doubled the benchmark Cravath scale. Although some felt the firm could have been even more generous, given its strong performance in 2010, most Irell associates were quite pleased.

Discontent grew, however, over the following months. Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses, Cravath announced better spring bonuses, and most top firms followed suit. But not Irell.

Spring turned into summer. Some at Irell feared that the firm was done doling out bonuses until December.

But that fear was misplaced. Yesterday the firm announced “mid-year” bonuses.

So, how much are we talking about?

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Earlier this week, Hughes Hubbard & Reed finally got around to issuing spring bonuses. Oh, we can’t call them “spring” bonuses, because Hughes Hubbard is calling them “special” bonuses. But make no mistake, this is a spring bonus HHR has just taken a long time to get around to.

Unlike Cahill, which just gave their associates more money because they could, HHR is playing catch up to the 2010 bonus market. I can prove it: Hughes Hubbard’s special bonus is tied to 2010 performance and hours marks, not 2011.

I think if you are rewarding people for what they did in 2010, it’s pretty obvious that you are still trying to catch up to the 2010 compensation market…

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All right everybody, be cool, no need to break out the Drudge siren.

Yes, Cahill Gordon, which previously smashed the year-end associate bonus market back in December, has just announced “mid-year” bonuses. But this announcement is unlikely to start a trend. Remember, because Cahill’s bonuses were already so high, the firm did not announce spring bonuses. Spring bonuses really amounted to a bunch of other law firms trying to catch up with Cahill.

So today’s mid-year announcement is kind of just Cahill’s version of spring bonuses. And Cahill did mid-year bonuses last year. Am Law reports that associates will be getting between $5,000 and $25,000 bonus dollars from Cahill.

Wait a minute, what am I talking about? Of COURSE this is huge news! A bunch of associates just got a bonus from the partners for all their hard work… and right when the summer associates were around to see it. Somebody is making it rain up in here….

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Paul Clement and John Boehner: now out of King & Spalding's hair.

Some people, including crisis communications experts, think that King & Spalding should just shut up already about the DOMA debacle. The firm agreed to represent the House of Representatives in defending the controversial Defense of Marriage Act, and then almost immediately turned around and withdrew from the representation. This prompted the departure from the firm of star appellate litigator Paul Clement, former Solicitor General of the United States, who took the DOMA matter over to his new firm, Bancroft PLLC.

The decision to drop DOMA defense also led to the defections of King & Spalding clients, like the NRA and the state of Virginia. It generated criticism of the firm from diverse quarters — everyone from Ken Cuccinelli to the New York Times editorial board. [FN1]

Despite the advice of the communications experts (with which I personally agree), King & Spalding continues to discuss the DOMA debacle. The firm is starting to sound like a therapy patient that won’t relinquish the couch, and just wants to yap and yap and yap. Are you listening?

Let’s look at the latest revelations — and also some compensation news out of K&S….

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While performing here at the ATL Cabaret on Wednesday night, the celebrated drag queen of Biglaw, Kaye Scholer, was pelted with rotten fruit — by her own associates. If you haven’t done so already, do check out their rage-filled rants. (If nothing else, they’ll make you feel better about your own firm.)

As we’ve stated before, we’re committed to presenting both sides of a given story here at Above the Law. Sometimes we don’t hear the other side of a story because the sources on that side don’t care to contact us. But when we do have both sides available to us, we present them.

In the case of the People v. Kaye Scholer, we did hear from a character witness on behalf of the defendant. What did this individual have to say?

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We previously compared the law firm of Kaye Scholer to a drag queen. Kaye Scholer, Kay Scholer — geddit?

Well, some associates at Kaye Scholer claim they’ve seen underneath all the make-up — and it’s not pretty. This contestant would not go far in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

In terms of responses to our recent discussion of which firms aren’t paying spring bonuses, however, Kaye Scholer emerges a winner. We’ve heard from KS associates in droves over the past day or two — and the depth of their fury is impressive.

What are they so upset about? It’s not just the lack of spring bonuses. Let’s find out….

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DLA Piper has released some information about its associate compensation and bonus payouts, and some associates who work for the firm are unhappy. Why? I don’t really know. I don’t know why they thought that working for the largest firm in the world would be a good thing when it came time to pay out bonuses.

Attempts to economize on associate salaries are not new at DLA Piper. The firm has been at the cutting edge (pun intended) of reduced associate base salaries, deferrals of incoming associates, and various other methods for keeping the cost of associates down. It’s just how they roll.

It should surprise no one that DLA associates are complaining about the firm’s bonus plan. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s news that the firm seems to be low-balling associates. If anything, the news hook is that there are still associates at DLA Piper who are surprised by sub-market comp….

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No bonus for you!

It’s April 29. Monarchists have long circled this day as an opportunity to praise the vestigial structures of imperial domination. But this day means a lot to people who earn their fortune through work instead of birth. Today is a huge day for Biglaw associates. For many, today is the day spring bonus payments hit their bank accounts.

Don’t spend it all in one place.

But as we all know, not every Biglaw associate will be enjoying a spring bonus this year. With the payments out, we’re no longer looking at which firms are “lagging” behind in their spring bonus announcements. Now we’re looking at firms that have simply decided they are not paying spring bonuses, regardless of what the market says. Apparently, keeping up with Cravath really will be ruinous to some firms.

So who has officially announced they will not be paying spring bonuses this year? We’ll tell you what we know about three Biglaw firms, and hopefully you can fill in any gaps…

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The funny thing about spring bonuses is that nobody really planned on them. Firms really thought they were going to be able to get through bonus season paying Cravath’s lowball initial bonuses. Remember when Cravath seemingly set the market, and there was that one partner caught saying “thank God”? That’s what firms were thinking.

Well, spring bonuses have been with us for some time now, and most firms that are going to pay them have announced. Still, there are some firms that seem to be trying to figure out how to delay or avoid paying market compensation for as long as possible.

Schulte Roth is in that category. They’ll be paying spring bonuses, but only if you hit various 2010 and 2011 hours requirements.

And so while Schulte can say that it is “matching” the Cravath scale for spring bonuses, it seems like there are a lot of Schulte people who will not be seeing a single spring bonus dollar. These are the kinds of things that happen when firms are caught off guard by market forces…

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It appears that Larry Sonsini, chairman and name partner of the high-powered Wilson Sonsini law firm, is a very good golfer. Earlier this year, while playing golf to celebrate his 70th birthday, the legendary lawyer scored a hole in one.

Sonsini isn’t the only one who’s scoring over at 650 Page Mill Road. His partners are doing deals left and right, and the fees are trickling down to the associates, who just scored some nice pay raises.

What is Wilson Sonsini up to? Let’s find out….

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