Don’t look now, but there is a spring bonus war brewing. I’m serious. Don’t be fooled with the way most Biglaw firms are trying to pretend that spring bonuses don’t exist. Two of the most profitable firms have entered into the spring bonus fight. And they are not in lockstep with each other.
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.
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.
In case you haven’t heard (and you probably haven’t), today is apparently International Be Kind to Lawyers Day. So what are people supposed to do on this high holy day for lawyers? Scream “I’m ga-ga over my attorney!” out their windows? Work the phrase “I object!” into everyday conversations (as suggested by the creator of this event)?
Well, we’ve got an idea that we think our audience will really appreciate. Because the best way to be kind to lawyers in Biglaw is to show them the money. On that note, where are the spring bonuses?
Today brings additional intelligence about spring bonuses at Sullivan & Cromwell (on the heels of yesterday’s report). This information has broad relevance within Biglaw because it’s clear that spring bonuses won’t happen on a large scale unless S&C moves. Four managing partners have already made clear to Am Law Daily that they won’t pay out unless they’re forced to do so. Any such forcing would presumably be done by S&C, which was the first mover behind last year’s spring bonus trend.
From the perspective of associates, there’s good news coming out of S&C, and there’s bad news. Which do you want to hear first?
Yesterday I got to chat with H. Rodgin Cohen, one of the nation’s leading corporate lawyers. Cohen has been accurately described by the New York Times as “the dean of Wall Street lawyers” as well as the “trauma surgeon of Wall Street” (for his heroic work rescuing the nation’s financial system during the 2008 financial crisis).
When he’s not working on bank mega-mergers, Cohen plays a major role in running the venerable firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he has spent his entire legal career (except for two years as an Army lawyer). He served as chairman of the firm from 2000 until 2010, when he passed his crown to Joseph Shenker, but Cohen continues to serve in the role of “senior chairman.”
So of course I asked Rodge Cohen about a very hot topic: spring bonuses. What did he have to say?
If this were a nature show, Dewey & LeBoeuf would be a prey animal that looks normal to the naked human eye, but you can deduce that it’s seriously wounded because of the vultures circling around overhead. Everybody seems to be waiting for things to go from bad to worse.
Of course, according to Dewey management, everything is going just fine. I mean, what do you expect them to say? It’s Dewey, not Gondor. The managing partner isn’t going to have press conference where he screams, “Abandon your posts! Flee! Flee for your lives!”
Instead, we have this quote from Dewey Chairman Steven Davis in the Wall Street Journal (subscription): “We are producing the best work in the history of the firm and producing some of its strongest ever results… The overwhelming majority of our partners are excited about our future.”
Well, apparently those “strongest ever results” aren’t translating into “cash money” for people who work at the firm….
Do you remember the first time you said “but you promised” to somebody who was probably older than you and in the process of not giving you what they said they’d give you? It’s a pathetic feeling: you’ve been counting on something, you see it being pulled away from you, and all you can do is throw yourself upon the mercy of another person’s sense of fair play.
That hopeless feeling is what Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers are feeling as a globally-warmed winter gives way to spring. S&C promised they’d be paying spring bonuses. But here we are, in the spring, and the firm is still silent.
Did they think everybody would forget? Or do they just think that breaking their word is no big deal?
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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