Bonuses

As we mentioned earlier today, bonuses are out at Latham & Watkins. The announcement came out yesterday.

And that’s basically the only thing our Latham sources can agree upon. Reactions to the LW bonuses varied greatly.

Let’s check out the numbers and see what our sources have to say….

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We’re in the middle of what we previously referred to as the second wave of law firm bonus announcements. Later today, for example, we’ll write about the Latham & Watkins announcement from yesterday. (So far we’re hearing mixed things; if you’re at Latham and would like to opine on the bonuses, feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477).)

Right now we’re going to discuss the bonuses announced at Goodwin Procter (which actually just hired a partner, Brynn Peltz, away from Latham). The Goodwin bonus announcement came out on Tuesday of this week.

So what do 2012 bonuses at Goodwin Procter look like?

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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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A few months ago, we wrote a story about the $160K-Plus Club: those law firms that pay their first-year associates more than $160,000 a year, the going rate within Biglaw. Earlier this week, we covered which cities give young lawyers the biggest bang for their buck — i.e., cities where the buying power of the median salary for that city is the greatest.

Let’s mash up these two stories. Today we bring you news of a law firm that (1) pays a starting salary of more than $160,000 and (2) is based in a city that’s in the top ten for buying power. Associates at this firm are — by our calculations, based on the NALP Buying Power Index — living as well as someone earning $414,000 in New York City. That’s a staggering sum for a first-year associate.

So which firm are we talking about? And are they hiring?

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It’s the last day of December, so it’s a good time to look back on the year that was. We’ll do what we’ve done for the past three years (wrap-up posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 can be found here, here, and here) and identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2012, based on traffic (as represented by pageviews).

By the way, for the third year in a row, the most popular category page on Above the Law was Law Schools. People have now been intensely focused on the declining value proposition of going to law school for as long as it takes to earn a Juris Doctor degree. Isn’t it time that we graduate from the current educational model?

The second and third most-popular categories on ATL in 2012 were Biglaw and Bonuses. Although this year brought us the largest law firm failure ever, nearly all other firms indiscriminately doled out offers to summer associates, and bonus season looked better for the first time in years. While the legal profession is still in transition, things are certainly looking up, and through the highs and the lows, we’ve been there to cover it all.

So what were the ten most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2012? Let’s find out….

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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….

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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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