Salary Freeze

The freeze is melting away.

A friend who is a federal clerk just texted me: “I’m gonna buy new bras!”

Oh yes, it’s time federal clerks got back to the good life. A memo just went out from Senior Judge Thomas Hogan who heads the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Hogan informed the system that the freeze on promotions, step increases, and cash awards for federal clerks has been lifted for this year.

It’s cool to be a federal clerk again! Well, it’s cool to be a federal clerk on a two-year or long term clerkship, again.

But maybe only for this moment. Austerity could rear her ugly head right around the corner….

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It appears that Larry Sonsini, chairman and name partner of the high-powered Wilson Sonsini law firm, is a very good golfer. Earlier this year, while playing golf to celebrate his 70th birthday, the legendary lawyer scored a hole in one.

Sonsini isn’t the only one who’s scoring over at 650 Page Mill Road. His partners are doing deals left and right, and the fees are trickling down to the associates, who just scored some nice pay raises.

What is Wilson Sonsini up to? Let’s find out….

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There was a time in this country where the holiday season was a time to be rewarded for a good year of work. People received bonuses. People received pay raises, so their salaries could keep pace with their growing experience and maturity (or at least keep up with inflation).

The America where that kind of stuff happened now only exists in memory. In post-recession (or mid-double-dip-recession) America, the holidays are a time when the people at the top jealously guard their wealth, while everybody else tries to figure out how to make “sacrifices” for the greater good.

Usually, this type of thing can be seen most clearly in the private sector (click here for Above the Law’s coverage of bonus season). But today the Obama administration is getting into the holiday spirit by freezing salaries on federal employees for two years.

So, if you’re a J.D. holder who joined the Department of Justice or another federal agency to escape the Biglaw recession, the pay cut you thought you were signing up for just got bigger.

And it probably also means that a few federal attorneys will be trying to get back into the private sector — which will be great, because it’s not like the market for attorneys is oversaturated or anything….

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Back in February, we wrote about various compensation developments over at Pillsbury Winthrop. At the time, the firm said it was considering moving away from a lockstep model in favor of a more performance-based compensation system.

The firm has not yet killed killed lockstep — a move that has historically generated mixed to negative reviews from associates at other firms. Instead, it has done something that has proven much more popular.

Last month, the Pillsbury dough boy baked up some delicious-smelling pay raises. Nothin’ says lovin’ like money from the oven!

So, what are the details?

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We have good news for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associates. Salary information is in and most people are getting raises. True-up raises at that. The class of 2008 pulled the short straw, but everybody else seems relatively happy. A tipster reports:

Please post that yesterday MLB essentially unfroze salaries (most ’08 grades only went up to 165 though) but otherwise made everyone whole, retroactive January 1, 2010.

The double-bump raise for veteran associates comes a couple of months after MLB announced big time raises for a select few associates — while most of the firm’s associates were left to wait and wonder. In January, we reported this message from Morgan Lewis Chairman, Francis M. Milone:

After considering all of these factors, we awarded base salary increases of up to $25,000 and incentive bonuses of up to $35,000 to our highest performing associates. As I advised in my November video presentation, we did not reduce associate base salaries.

According to the firm, the decision to give true-up raises to mostly everybody is in keeping with MLB’s new merit-based strategy …

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Winston Strawn LLP logo Above the Law blog.jpgFriday brought good news and bad news for Winston & Strawn associates.

The good news is that the double salary freeze, which has apparently resulted in first- through third-year associates at Winston all earning $160,000, may be thawing. Managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald sent a memo — this time to its intended recipients — indicating that raises are on the way.

The bad news is that Winston associates don’t know how much of a raise they’ll be getting — and the most they can hope for is a salary that matches the market. The memorandum contains the standard $160K salary scale — 160-170-185-210-230-250-265-280 — but states that “[s]alary levels in each associate class will range up to the maximum base compensation levels set forth” in the memo (emphases added).

The Winston associates we’ve heard from are upset. They’re unhappy not just about the move away from lockstep, but over the firm’s failure to set forth in detail how salaries will be determined. Most of the other firms that have abandoned lockstep have set forth elaborate systems for evaluating associates to determine their compensation and advancement. The Winston memo simply states: “Individual associate salaries will be determined on a case by case basis based on seniority, performance and productivity factors and will be communicated separately to each associate.”

This is a “black box” approach to compensation. It’s used by other big firms — e.g., Jones Day — but it’s a significant departure from Winston’s historical practice. It’s not what Winston associates signed up for when they joined the firm.

But then again, thanks to the Great Recession, lots of Biglaw associates aren’t getting what they expected when they joined their firms. And if associates aren’t happy, with compensation or any other aspect of their employment, their firms will tell them: you’re free to leave. In the words of an unemployed woman quoted in this weekend’s New York Times, “There are no bad jobs now. Any job is a good job.”

There’s a little more bad news about Winston associate salaries. Find out what it is, and read the full Winston & Strawn memo, after the jump.

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American Apparel MoFo.jpgIs Biglaw getting over the gloom of the recession? Back in October, Morrison & Foerster was feeling pessimistic about attorney salaries. It decided to cut salaries for first-year associates from $160,000 to $145,000. Only associates in pricey New York and Asia — MoFo has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo, all expensive cities — were spared the cut.

The firm said at the time:

Note, however, that the market for first year salaries among national firms is undetermined at this time. Given that, we will continue to assess starting salaries, in light of market trends, and may elect to adjust as required based on larger market developments.

Well, MoFo has assessed, and MoFo has decided to beef up its salaries. Associates got news this week that first year salaries are back up to $160k. And the raise is retroactive to January 1st. From the firm email that went out on Tuesday, available in full after the jump:

Although a great deal of uncertainty continues regarding how the economy will perform in 2010, we, like our most successful competitors, remain in demand. We are planning conservatively for 2010. However, if 2009 is a predictor, 2010 will provide opportunity despite its challenges.

MoFo is known for being a little quirky. In keeping with its individualistic streak, it’s decided to buck the Cravath scale for its 2009 bonuses. Bonuses range as high as $65,000, but only if you clocked the requisite number of hours.

Additional good news: Pro bono hours count…

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Sidley Austin new logo Sidley Austin Brown Wood ATL Above the Law blog.jpgSidley Austin associates, never underestimate the power of flipping out. Earlier today, we reported that Sidley Austin associates hit the proverbial roof (“proverbial roof” = hit send button on emails to Above the Law) when Winston & Strawn announced its salary structure (which we reported even earlier today). The Winston announcement, coupled with the fact that Sidley associates received another frozen paycheck last night/this morning, made associates at the firm very angry with Sidley’s reluctance to communicate the 2010 salary scale.
Well, Sidley associates, your complaints have been answered. Sidley just announced its 2010 salary scale, and the firm will be making a true-up raise. The raises will be retroactive to January 1, 2010.
Yay? Not quite. Some Sidley Austin people are still annoyed that the firm will evidently not be giving out a make-whole bonus, as other firms have done.
Details and the memo after the jump.

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Sidley Austin new logo Sidley Austin Brown Wood ATL Above the Law blog.jpgAfter we published news of Winston & Strawn’s salary freeze, our Sidley Austin tipsters went apoplectic. A Facebook message I received moments after publishing the Winston news seems to sum up the mood of Sidley associates:

My firm [Sidley] is more like Winston than it is like a good firm. I should have gone to Kirkland.

Ouch. Why the sadness? Well, today is payday, and Sidley people have just learned that, as of now, their salaries are still frozen in place.
Details after the jump.
UPDATE: After this post went up, Sidley decided to announce its 2010 salary structure. Click here for our updated coverage.

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winston strawn.gifAnother salary shoe has fallen in Chicago. Winston & Strawn froze salaries last year, and they are doing it again this year. A tipster reports:

Chicago received salary memos yesterday; DC just received salary memos today – All are individualized with no general pay scale included – just the recipient’s salary information.
Based on conversations with numerous associates in both offices – those who did not make hours (1950), those who did, and those who exceeded, all salaries remained the same (frozen at 2008 rates).

Well, at least that’s consistent.
A few details from the memos after the jump.

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