Associate Bonus Watch 2012

Earlier this month, the top-flight California firm of Irell & Manella announced associate bonuses. Historically Irell has paid well above market. Last year, for example, Irell paid double the going rate (as set by Cravath and the other major New York firms).

So what did Irell do this time around?

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Law firm bonus announcements come in two waves. In November and December, the New York-centric firms announce their bonuses (after taking their cue from Cravath). In January and February, the West Coast and also nationally oriented firms announce their bonuses for the prior year.

So the 2012 bonus season isn’t over, even though we’re now two weeks into 2013. Yesterday, for example, brought bonus news from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Orrick is a leader is the brave new world of “merit-based compensation.” What are they up to now?

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Merry Christmas, Quinn Emanuel billers.

Yesterday, we talked about the Quinn Emanuel bonuses. Many associates were angry, especially those who had billed a lot of hours in 2012. For some of those top billers, their bonuses were smaller than the same amount of work was worth last year.

Well, advocate and thou shalt receive. Quinn Emanuel just sent around a memo announcing that it will be increasing the top-end payments, to bring them in line with last year…

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Partners: Alright you associates, ready to get happy about bonuses?
Quinn Associate: I’d say we are.
Cravath Associate: Yeah, let’s sing it now!
Partners: Okay, Kirkland?
Kirkland Associate: Okay!
Partners: Okay, Cravath?
Cravath Associate: Okay!
Partners: Okay Quinn? … Quinn? … QUINN EMANUEL!!!
Quinn Associate: OKAY!!

Yes, the Chipmunk Christmas Song is the perfect holiday analogy for Biglaw bonus season this year. And not just because Biglaw associates do work that talking chipmunks could accomplish [zing]. I’m looking at associate reactions from all these firms, and it just seems like expectations are playing a much larger role than the actual dollar amounts.

You’ve got Cravath associates in the role of Theodore. Maybe they’re not as sharp as some of the others, but they’re just kind of happy to be here. Kirkland associates are playing Simon — nerdy and a bit grumpy, but they’re not going to make a big scene about it.

And then you have Quinn associates, playing Alvin, the diva. Their bonuses came out just before Christmas, and they seem really angry about this situation. Even though most of them are making more than Cravath.

I guess they were expecting a hula-hoop….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Bonus Watch: Not Enough Silver and Gold on the Quinn Christmas Tree?”

It’s a good news, bad news kind of thing for associates at Kirkland & Ellis.

The good news: their bonuses are much better than the “scraps thrown to the troglodytes slaving away at Cravath,” according to one tipster.

The bad news: the bonuses don’t seem to be as generous as last year’s, and some associates made less in real dollars this year than last year, despite billing the same amount of hours and being a year more senior.

So not everybody at Kirkland is happy, which is weird because usually K&E gives its people happy juice before they talk to anybody.

Of course, when your firm uses Cravath as a baseline for your bonuses, happiness is a relative term….

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As we mentioned last month, the downtown law firm of Cahill Gordon got hit hard by Superstorm Sandy. Weeks after the hurricane, lawyers and staff at Cahill are still working out of temporary space. We hear that they’ll be moving back to their normal office space in January.

But no natural disaster can stop money from raining down on Cahill associates. The firm just announced “special” bonuses that will be paid this month, in advance of usual year-end bonuses in January. And who knows — if all goes well, maybe the firm will pay summer bonuses in 2013, as it did in July 2012.

So how much is Cahill paying out this month, in advance of Cravath-level bonuses in January?

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We’re tempted to do what we proposed last year regarding Sidley Austin bonuses, by simply writing: “Sidley bonuses are out. The scale is not transparent, so some people may be happy with their bonuses and others may be unhappy. Here is an open thread for you to discuss. Thank you.”

That would at least spare us from some of the criticism we’ve received for our coverage of the Sidley bonuses in recent years. In 2010, we initially wrote a very positive post, which we got criticized for by people who saw it as too positive. In 2011, we went in the other direction, reporting that Sidley’s bonuses drew yawns from associates — an assessment that drew flak for us from happy campers at Sidley (and there are many happy campers at the firm; it enjoys an A- rating from ATL readers who work there).

So we realize that covering the sensitive subject of Sidley bonuses is a bit like trying to reach a budget deal: you can’t make everyone happy, just varying degrees of unhappy. But we’ll give it our best shot….

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Even if the big lockstep New York firms are done, associate bonus news continues to roll in from around the country. For example, bonuses are out at Sidley Austin. We’re working on a story for tomorrow; feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477) with your reactions (to be used anonymously).

Today brings bonus news from Susman Godfrey. The high-powered boutique is known for high-stakes commercial litigation — and high, market-beating bonuses.

(And high-attendance holiday parties too; this year’s fête in New York drew more than 500 guests, many of them boldface names of the legal profession. As I observed on Twitter, “you could staff a great law firm with the guest list at the Susman Godfrey holiday party.”)

So how big were the Susman Godfrey bonuses this year?

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The global law firm of Clifford Chance, a member of the Magic Circle, is one of the biggest names in Biglaw. It’s the world’s #5 law firm in terms of revenue and the #3 law firm in terms of headcount. In the American Lawyer’s inaugural set of rankings for the world’s most valuable law firms, Clifford Chance came in #6. Clifford Chance is so global that it makes the Atlantic Ocean look like a pond.

Here in the United States, Clifford Chance has offices in New York and Washington. What can associates in these offices expect in terms of their bonuses this year?

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Bonus announcements continue to trickle in. Today brings bonus news from White & Case.

It’s not terribly exciting. For associates in New York, the firm is matching the Cravath scale (just as Morrison & Foerster did the other day).

When are the bonuses going to be paid? And what about associates beyond the Big Apple?

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