Associate Bonus Watch 2011

When you read about a multibillion-dollar, highly contested corporate takeover, there’s a decent chance that Wachtell Lipton is involved. The firm, which routinely tops the American Lawyer’s profits per partner rankings and Vault’s prestige rankings, is known for its expertise in mergers and acquisitions.

Charter Communications’ unsolicited $61 billion bid for Time Warner Cable? Yup, Wachtell is on the scene, representing Charter (with help from Kirkland & Ellis). If a deal goes through, count on an eight-figure fee for Wachtell.

And some of that lucre will trickle down to associates. Wachtell Lipton is known for gigantic bonuses, which can match (or even occasionally exceed) an associate’s base salary.[1] And it pays out bonuses in lockstep fashion, without regard to hours (unlike, say, Boies Schiller, another firm famous for its generous bonuses).[2]

How were Wachtell bonuses in 2013? Inquiring minds want to know. Alas, we don’t have the 2013 info (yet) — but here’s what we’ve heard about 2011 and 2012….

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard some surprising rumblings of discontent from Boies Schiller. Why do we say “surprising”? Because the complaints have been about compensation, which is typically something that BSF lawyers never complain about.

Boies Schiller, the litigation powerhouse founded by the legendary David Boies, is an amazing firm. Its lawyers work on some of the biggest and most important cases of our time, and their compensation reflects that. In addition to paying above-market base salaries — the BSF scale starts at $174,000 — the firm pays bonuses that blow the NYC market out of the water.

In recent years, Boies has made two bonus payments to associates, one in December and one in April. But this year, April came and went, and many lawyers did not receive any payout. Of those who did receive payments, many were surprised at the small size.

So what happened? Did the relative cheapness of the disappointing spring bonuses at Sullivan & Cromwell trickle down (or up) to Boies Schiller? Let’s discuss….

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Lat here. In late March, I wrote a story with this title: “Sullivan & Cromwell Will Pay Spring Bonuses — But Will They Be Too Small To Be Worth Matching?”

I’m sad to report that my prediction has come to pass. Sullivan & Cromwell has announced spring bonuses, but they’re nothing to write home about. They are probably too modest for other firms to bother matching. The spring bonuses of Quinn Emanuel will surely exceed the S&C amounts.

Sullivan promised spring bonuses in its 2011 year-end bonus memo, and it reiterated that promise on subsequent occasions. But the powers that be at S&C never said anything as to amounts, leading some to forecast wimpy payouts.

So how much are we talking about? Let’s find out, and get some color commentary from my colleague, Elie Mystal….

UPDATE (4:20 PM): We’re continuing to update this post. Go after the jump and refresh.

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Two weeks ago, we talked about how hard Quinn Emanuel associates are working. Now we get to talk about how well Quinn Emanuel associates get paid.

In its year-end bonus memo, issued this past December, Quinn Emanuel said the following:

We know some firms have indicated they will pay additional bonuses this Spring. While we are not announcing any specific level of Spring bonuses now, we will certainly match any bonuses that other competitive firms may offer.

But while we wait for Sullivan & Cromwell to live up to its spring bonus promise, Quinn has become not a spring bonus follower, but a spring bonus leader….

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In late February, bonuses were announced at Jenner & Block. The firm has an individualized bonus system, so there’s no table to pass along.

And it’s harder to assess associate reactions to bonuses in a non-lockstep system. But we’ll give it a shot, and we’ll also share with you some information provided by the firm itself….

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Yes, we know: everyone is waiting for, hoping for, and praying for spring bonuses. We’ve been banging on that drum repeatedly in these pages, but let’s be honest: aren’t we just waiting on Sullivan & Cromwell? As far as we know, S&C is the only firm that stated, in its year-end bonus memo, that it “currently expects to pay a bonus in the Spring.” If Sullivan moves, others will; if it doesn’t, then we’ll be waiting a long time.

Anyway, here’s a sign of how late spring bonuses are. Last year, McDermott Will & Emery issued a consolidated bonus announcement, in which it combined year-end and spring bonuses. This time around, well, there’s nothing to combine.

But let’s get into it anyway. Last week, McDermott informed individual associates of their bonuses. What do MWE associates think of their pay?

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There were a few rough patches last year for O’Melveny & Myers. The elite firm, founded in California but now international in its coverage, experienced a significant number of partner departures. It conducted some staff layoffs. And there was turnover at the top, with New York litigator Bradley Butwin picked to replace D.C. power broker A.B. Culvahouse as chair of the firm (ending Culvahouse’s leadership term about a year early.)

Has OMM turned a corner under the new leadership? Butwin and the other new leaders at the firm have started implementing a new strategic vision for the firm, and thus far, things seem to be going well. The firm’s latest financial results were healthy, with the key metrics of profits per partner and revenue per lawyer hitting record highs in 2011 (reaching $1.73 million and $1.02 million, respectively).

What have these financial results meant for O’Melveny associates? The firm recently announced its 2011 bonuses….

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(And other OMM developments.)

In terms of firm finances, Paul Hastings had a perfectly decent 2011. Revenue and profits were fairly stable, according to Am Law Daily. Gross revenue fell by 2 percent to $884 million, and profits per partner fell by 1.3 percent to about $1.97 million. On the brighter side, revenue per lawyer surpassed the $1 million mark for the first time, hitting $1.01 million.

So how are those revenue-generating worker bees being compensated? Bonuses are out at Paul Hastings. How are PH associates reacting?

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When it comes to year-end bonuses, Cravath traditionally leads, and everyone else follows. But when it comes to spring bonuses, which we’ve all been eagerly anticipating, the usual first mover is Sullivan & Cromwell.

So why are we now hearing word of spring bonuses over at 825 Eighth Avenue? What the heck is going on?

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We’re getting back into the Biglaw bonus beat here at Above the Law. Yesterday, for example, we covered Winston & Strawn’s bonus news.

Today we’ll take a look at bonuses over at Baker Botts. Is it true that everything is bigger in Texas?

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