Stick a fork in it, because it’s almost done. There’s a high likelihood that the 2012 associate bonus season is complete, at least for all practical purposes, and if so, it will look a lot like past bonus seasons: Cravath leads, and everyone else follows.
“High likelihood,” but not yet a certainty. There’s one major wild card that’s still out: Sullivan & Cromwell, which sometimes takes the lead on associate compensation. Remember, of course, that the 2011 spring bonuses were brought to you by S&C. One could certainly see a scenario in which Sullivan & Cromwell trumps Cravath, in order to get Cravath back for how CSM showed up S&C on spring bonuses.
Unless and until Sullivan & Cromwell beats Cravath, though, we’re playing the usual game of follow Cravath. Let’s check out the latest firm to fall in line….
Well, so much for that! Time for me to end my short-lived career as a fortune teller or law firm consultant.
Within minutes of my wondering whether firms might not match the generous 2012 Cravath bonus scale — and my suggesting, ever so gently, that firms might want to at least put some thought into whether matching made sense for them financially — one major law firm announced a match of the Cravath lucre.
When it comes to bonus payments, Simpson Thacher will not take a backseat to Cravath. Let’s get the details….
We haven’t had one for a while. In the past few years, things have followed the usual pattern: the market leader, Cravath, announces bonuses, and everyone else follows.
The last truly interesting bonus season took place in 2008. That year, instead of waiting for Cravath, Skadden moved first and offered generous bonuses (regular year-end bonuses at 2007 levels, just no “special” or supplemental bonuses). The following day, Cravath announced bonuses that were essentially half of Skadden’s. This led my colleague, Elie Mystal, to develop and deploy the term “Half-Skadden” to refer to the bonuses offered by Cravath and its (many grateful) followers.
But this year raises an interesting question: Could Cravath get… Cravathed? Could this be the year of “Half-Cravath” bonuses?
UPDATE (11:00 AM): Or maybe not. Note the update at the end of this post about one leading firm that just matched Cravath.
* Chief Justice John Roberts gave a Solicitor General’s Office attorney a vicious tongue-lashing for failure to be upfront about policy changes between presidents. Now that’s what we’d call a verbal benchslap! [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* When asked if they’d be following Cravath’s bonuses, a dozen Am Law 100 firms didn’t even care to respond or discuss the matter. It seems the partners would rather keep their associates squirming with suspense a while longer. [Am Law Daily]
* Watch out, world, because Catholic University of America just hired a Biglaw senior partner to lead its law school. Say hello to Dean Daniel Attridge, formerly managing partner at the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis. [National Law Journal]
* A federal judge ordered tobacco companies to disclose in product warnings that they chemically induce smoking addictions to turn a profit, but those fools will keep puffing their cancer sticks anyway. [WSJ Law Blog]
* This just in from Flori-duh: you know you’re probably going to have a bad day in court when the judge won’t declare a mistrial even though the prosecutor technically wasn’t a member of the state Bar. [Miami Herald]
Yesterday, Cravath made it rain with a decent bonus scale, especially for those who survived the meltdown. A fifth-year associate at Cravath is making $230,000 in base salary and will receive a $34,000 bonus. Nice work if you can get it. (Actually, it’s not nice work. It’s grueling, soul-crushing. Luckily, most people can’t get it.)
Soon after the Cravath bonuses came out, Weil Gotshal issued some bonus news of its own. The firm is expected to match Cravath, but yesterday Weil announced that it won’t pay bonuses until the end of January, 2013. The timing represents a change for Weil; in recent years, the firm has paid out bonuses in December, not January.
Is it no big deal? Well, if you are a fifth-year expecting a Cravath-level bonus, it could be a huge deal. That bonus is going to push you over the $250,000 mark, and that could make a big difference if we’re talking about 2012 versus 2013…
Lat here. Earlier this month, I wondered: could the bumper crop of new partners at Cravath bode well for bonuses? Although firms like Cravath generally make partnership decisions with a focus on the longer term, as opposed to based on short-term financial performance, a class of five partners is one of the largest Cravath has had in years. It certainly seems to reflect a good degree of confidence about the firm’s future.
Now we have our answer as to the size of Cravath bonuses. The firm just announced its year-end bonuses for 2012, and they’re not simply a cut-and-paste of last year’s numbers. This year’s bonuses are more generous than last year’s, which is great news (at least for associates trying to pay off their law school loans; partners might be less enthused).
Sit up and take notes, since the Cravath bonus scale sets the bar for most other major law firms….
* BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 charges and pay $4.5B in fines, but before going through with it, several Biglaw firms helped the company sell off assets to fund litigation- and spill-related costs. [Am Law Daily]
* According to HBR Consulting, compensation for in-house attorneys has risen over the past year — including bonuses, which went up to $62,500. Sorry, but Biglaw isn’t following suit. [Corporate Counsel]
* It’s better to leave well enough alone: Pryor Cashman was ordered to pay more than $21K in legal fees for filing a frivolous motion over its repeated attempts to dismiss a case. [New York Law Journal]
* Judge Susan McDunn, who claimed that her “life [was] being ruined” by the secret lawsuits of many powerful Chicagoans, has resigned. Looks like her $182K salary wasn’t enough to buy crazy pills. [Chicago Tribune]
Time to start practicing the Cravath walk? (Google it if you’re not familiar.)
In an excellentessay reflecting on his time at Cravath, lawyer turned author James B. Stewart had this to say about the associates who made partner: “They weren’t necessarily the brightest…. They weren’t, as I had expected, the hardest-working…. They weren’t the most personable…. Finally it came to me: The one thing nearly all the partners had in common was they loved their work.”
Move over, Virginia. Cravath is for lovers — of work.
The firm just named its latest class of lovers. How many new partners did CSM just make, and what might this suggest about the firm’s market-setting bonuses?
Hello associates. It is almost bonus season. For most of you, your main hopes this time of year are (1) to get a bonus and (2) no surprises. What kind of surprises are you looking to avoid? Unwelcome ones. Like your firm going from lockstep associate compensation to a “merit-based” system. Or the firm implementing a different bonus hours target at the last minute. That two-week-long summer trip to Barcelona and Ibiza? The one that cost you about a hundred billable hours? Congratulations. That one hundred hours is now costing you twenty grand in bonus money. Thanks for playing the Biglaw associate game.
So Lat asked me to give some insight into what partners think about associate bonuses. From what I can tell, the overwhelmingly majority of partners don’t think at all about associate bonuses. The reality is that nearly all Biglaw decisions are made by a very small group of partners (increasingly with the help of professional non-lawyer administrators). The ones on the Executive Committee. With an assist (on this issue) by the Associate or Compensation Committees.
So far, no firm has stepped up and paid out bonuses early to help people struggling with Hurricane Sandy. Given the Nor’easter, associates might just burn the money to stay warm.
But at least one firm is being proactive about adjusting expectations because of the crazy weather patterns. Sandy essentially took a week away from billables, and so the firm is knocking a week off the minimum hour requirement….
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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 six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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