We say “for the most part” because, for associates billing under 2100 hours, the scale is below Cravath — but just slightly. And it’s our understanding that not many QE associates bill less than 2100 hours anyway.
Full disclosure: I have a disproportionate amount of lawyer friends who work at Sidley Austin. Their bonuses have caused all sorts of fun to happen in my inbox. Without even seeing the actual bonus memo, I could tell what was happening based on Gchats and text messages. Friends said things like:
“This joke stopped being funny days ago.”
“Is ATL hiring?”
“Sidley proves you right every single day.”
I like it when friends making three times as much money as I make feel comfortable complaining to me.
It appears that the answer to that question is, “You’re welcome.”
If you made a list of people whose opinions matter when it comes to Biglaw bonuses, you couldn’t name ten people more important than Susan Webster. She’s the head of the general corporate practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore. If we knew how much she tipped her doorman, it would be big news.
But we can do better than that.
A tipster let us in on an overheard conversation between Webster and a Biglaw partner at a different firm. When we contacted her, Webster told us that the tipster mischaracterized the nature of her accidentally public conversation.
But why don’t you take a look, and prepare yourself for the possibility of a very sad spring….
Partners at Gibson Dunn are conducting associate reviews this week. Associates receive news of how they’re doing — and how much they’ll be getting, in terms of bonuses that will be paid out later this month.
As we’ve explained in 2010 and 2009, the GDC bonus system is not transparent and not lockstep. Instead, associates get individualized bonuses, based on such factors as hours and quality of work. The firm tends to use the Cravath scale as the starting point for its bonus scale.
What’s the early word about Gibson bonuses this year?
Enough with all this sadness about these pathetically low bonuses that Cravath has engineered for everybody. Let’s try to be positive. People are getting money. Yay money. Who can be sad when they are getting more money?
In fact, I have a great idea: instead of just writing checks that reflect the general New York bonus scale, Clifford Chance and Covington & Burling should pay the bonuses out in single dollar bills. The partners should sneak into each associate’s office at night and just spread the money around. If you share an office, well, the early bird gets the worm.
See, then it’s fun. It’s a like a game. And it distracts the mind from how ridiculous it is to give the same bonus from 2010 in 2011….
Akin Gump, it seems to me, has taken the reasonable approach for any firm that does not want to be a market leader in terms of compensation: it’s going to wait. Of course the firm is going to match. Most of the firms will end up matching the prevailing market for associate bonuses.
But as far as how much money that’ll be, we just don’t know yet. Instead of making a regular bonus announcement with a flashy bonus scale and the fiction that the numbers bear any kind of relation to the actual profitability of the firm, Akin Gump is just going to wait and see what happens, and then match the market.
[We were going to call this post something like "Associate Bonus Watch: Susman Godfrey Beats Cravath Too." But then we felt bad for singling out Cravath for paying unsatisfyingbonuses, when so many other Biglaw firms have followed suit. So we went with a tamer title instead.]
Just as it did last year, the powerhouse litigation boutique of Susman Godfrey announced associate bonuses that put the bonus scales of most other firms to shame. Happy Holidays, Susman Godfrey associates!
(By the way, Susman is a firm that celebrates the season in high style. The holiday party of its New York office, catered by acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, is already legendary, even though it’s of fairly recent vintage.)
So, the Susman bonuses — what are we looking at here?
Last year, Cravath initially low-balled the bonus market, and Cahill Gordon made them look foolish by using the Cravath scale as a floor for its bonuses. This year, Cravath has come out with another crappy bonus scale, and Cahill is beating the bag out of it again.
This year, Cahill is making a “special bonus” payment right now, in time for everybody’s next paycheck. This is before they even delve into the regular year-end bonuses that Cravath has set at such a low mark.
It’s beginning to look a lot like last year’s Christmas at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. CWT announced yesterday that it would be matching the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale. It starts at $7,500 for the class of 2010 and tops out at $42,500 for the class of 2003 and more senior. All bonuses will be paid in early February 2012.
But what about spring bonuses? And is Cadwalader planning to show any love for the class of 2011?
The Cleary scale provides for (1) prorated bonuses for class of 2011 members and (2) a top payment of $42,500 for the most-senior lawyers (class of 2003 on up). We’re calling it the “Cleary scale” because some firms that pay a stub bonus to the class of 2011 top out at $37,500 (e.g., Milbank), and some firms that go all the way up to $42,500 don’t pay stub bonuses (e.g., Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher).
(These are some pretty fine — and minor — distinctions. As Elie just grumpily remarked to me, “Remember when setting the market involved making it rain instead of figuring out if any pee got on the toilet seat?”)
In any event, it’s nice that Paul Weiss is taking care of its people at both the top and bottom of the seniority scale. Let’s look at the memo….
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The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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