Associate Bonus Watch 2011

Just to be clear, the people who think that Cravath is the “compensation leader” in terms of Biglaw firms are incorrect. Wachtell Lipton, for example, regularly pays more than the people at Worldwide Plaza. Cravath does not set the top of the market in terms of associate bonuses.

The first firm to make Cravath associates feel impoverished this season appears to be Boies Schiller. Yep, the house that David Boies built is once again paying money to its people like bonuses are a reward for hard work.

But some say the payouts don’t appear to be quite as generous as last year. Others disagree. But you really don’t have to try that hard to beat Cravath anymore…

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As they say in the Pokémon movie, you gotta catch ‘em all.

That’s how we approach bonus news here at Above the Law. Today is shaping up as a day that will be full of bonus news. We’ve heard some rumblings about some big, Cravath topping bonuses at a well known shop, but for now, we’ve got a standard Cravath match.

Shearman & Sterling, come on down. You’re on “The Price Is Meh”…

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Let’s keep the bonus news rolling. On Friday, our sources reported that Proskauer Rose matched the Cravath 2011 bonus scale. We now have the official firm memo.

Apparently this news is likely to anger many Proskauer associates. Given that fact, I’m not exactly sure why the firm was eager to be one of the early adopters of Cravath’s bonus scale….

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Perhaps you’ve already heard that Cravath announced its 2011 bonus scale on Monday (swiftly followed by Skadden and Milbank) and apparently it’s 2009 all over again. Around here, while Lat shrugged and Elie heaped scorn (“dick move”), the ATL commentariat … well, they were cut to the heart and gnashed their teeth (“ALLCAPS OUTRAGE MEME”).

We can’t help but wonder if this bonus season’s dyspepsia is typical of lawyers and law students generally. What with the growing ranks of JDs who are despairing of ever paying off their debt, shouldn’t there be some significant cohort thinking, “phew…not only do I have a job, but now my firm will be forced to match”?

Well it turns out that’s certainly not the case…

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Last night, Milbank Tweed matched the Cravath bonus scale for 2011. The news, first reported by Am Law Daily, came on the heels of yesterday’s Skadden match.

But wait — did Milbank perhaps beat the Cravath and Skadden bonus scales? Let’s look at the details of the Milbank bonus announcement….

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No surprises here: Skadden has matched the 2011 Cravath bonus scale. Given the sheer size of Skadden, in terms of attorney headcount, this announcement directly affects the pocketbooks of more lawyers than the Cravath news (although the indirect effects of Cravath as market leader are, of course, huge).

So we won’t have a repeat of 2008, when Skadden paid twice as much as Cravath (aka Half-Skadden). Firms are essentially recycling last year’s bonus schedules. Hence our snazzy “recycling money” image, which will be the logo for Associate Bonus Watch 2011.

Let’s look at the memo, along with reactions from SASMF associates….

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It took a little longer than most of you expected, but Cravath, Swaine & Moore just announced its 2011 associate bonuses (not long after announcing its new partners). Barring something very unforeseen, these bonuses are what many Biglaw firms, in New York and across the land, will pay out this year to their people. Historically Cravath has set the market with respect to year-end associate bonuses at major law firms.

The Cravath bonuses are what you might expect. They are in line with recent years, nothing crazy high or ridiculously low. Both Occupy Wall Street types and law firm associates can put away the pitchforks.

Let’s take a look at the official memorandum, and engage in some analysis….

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On Friday, I started the official “damn it, I will hold my breath” bonus watch. I’ve already lost my editorial bet with Lat (I thought they’d come out before Monday), and now I just want them to get it started.

Also on Friday, our new Breaking Media research guru Brian Dalton started running a poll asking you, our readers, when you thought the bonuses would start flowing. It’ll be an interesting test case to rate the predictive power of Biglaw reader groupthink.

The numbers say that you expect bonuses to drop any minute now….

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Last year, on November 17th, I asked where the Biglaw bonuses were. Cravath announced five days later.

So if the firms are waiting for a personal invitation to announce their 2011 bonus payments, they should feel free to RSVP to this post. We’re ready for the bonuses now.

The firms aren’t scared, are they? They’re not worried about Occupy Wall Street protesters objecting to mere five-figure bonus news, are they? Haven’t the Occupy people proven that they aren’t even paying attention to the Wall Street lawyers?

So let’s get on with the process of spreading the wealth around Biglaw….

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File this under the category of “better late than never.” Holland & Knight never adopted spring bonuses like other Biglaw firms. Why? Who knows. The firm didn’t want to play ball. Whatever.

Now the firm wants to put a little extra money into the pockets of Holland & Knight associates. Today, sources tell us that Holland & Knight announced it would be paying out a “fall” bonus. I guess it was a good summer at the firm.

But don’t get confused, this is supplemental money to the 2010 bonus, not an advance on the 2011 bonus. As we’ve already mentioned, firms are using 2011 revenue to pay for 2010 performance, so you really can’t count it against the 2011 bonus pool.

And Holland & Knight acknowledges that….

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