Associate Bonus Watch 2009

Yes, you read that headline correctly. Out of nowhere, Cahill Gordon & Reindel has decided to give out a mid-year bonus. Not Cravath, not S&C, but Cahill Gordon. The same Cahill Gordon that is one of the few firms to have significant layoffs in 2010. This is the firm that could push the market towards mid-year bonuses?

Apparently so. A tipster reported the bonus scale to Above the Law. It’s not a huge amount of money, but it’s something….

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Last year, while law firms were still feeling the worst of the recession, Sullivan & Cromwell provided some springtime cheer to its associates. The firm paid a spring bonus in 2009. The payment was less than the one the firm made in 2008, but still, it was extra money in 2009. At the time, we reported:

[N]ews is now trickling in about the special bonus S&C paid out late last week. Last year, the spring bonus was as much as $30,000 for eighth-year associates.

This year, sources report that eighth-year associates topped out at $8,500. For first-year associates, the spring bonus was $500.

All indications are that the legal economy is better off now than it was in 2009. Will the fledgling recovery lead to a better spring bonus for SullCrom attorneys this year?

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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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For two weeks we’ve been getting reports about Paul Hastings bonuses. Many people claim that they received bonuses on par with the Cravath scale. But there have been a dedicated few who claim they were jobbed by the firm at bonus time. This tipster captures the general feeling:

PH bonuses were just announced [last month] and some crazy stuff has been going on. The top performers are getting totally screwed as PH has a bonus grid and is not allowing anyone to go off of that set chart. The result is that the best people with the strongest evals and tons of hours are getting barely any more different than their peers who did the bare minimum. There are some extreme and specific examples.

We’ve been able to solve the mystery. Paul Hastings gave out Cravath-level bonuses in all of their offices except Atlanta. In Atlanta Paul Hastings tried to match the Atlanta market for total compensation — which resulted in bonuses below the Cravath scale. The firm gave us details on its decision….

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Bingham McCutchen new logo Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgWhen you step into the killing lockstep zone, your bonus disappears into a black box. A while back, we reported that Bingham McCutchen adopted a lockstep-merit hybrid approach to associate compensation. Base salary would still be lockstep, but the bonus would be merit-based.

When we reported on the Bingham bonus, we noted that the firm intended to pay bonuses generally on the Cravath scale to its associates, based on a number of merit-based factors instead of hours.

But now our tipsters are telling us that some Bingham associates received much less than a Cravath-level payout:

A peek inside the black box, bonuses are generally well below the Cravath scale. The only associates receiving bonuses in the vicinity of the Cravath scale are those that exceeded the 2,100 hour minimum by a few hundred hours. Even bonuses in those instances were barely above the Cravath scale. Amazing considering JayZ just told the Boston Globe that the firm “had our best year ever.” Guess we know where all that money went. Morale is definitely at an all-time low. I would be shocked to see any associates making much of an effort to bill above the 2,100 hour minimum in 2010. I think “why bother” has become the most uttered phrase around the halls of Bingham over the last week.

“JayZ” refers to Bingham Chairman Jay S. Zimmerman, not the talented Mr. Shawn Carter.

But I suppose you could put Zimmerman’s positive outlook about the firm into a rap song …

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Bingham McCutchen new logo Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgMaybe Toyota should take a lesson from Bingham McCutchen: don’t try to cut corners when producing a hybrid.

Back in October, Bingham announced that it would be adopting a new “merit-lockstep” hybrid approach to associate compensation. The plan came with the stamp of approval from Bingham partners and associates. And a majority of Above the Law readers also approved of Bingham’s hybrid approach.

Today, Bingham rolled out its hybrid system. The firm is providing true-up, lockstep raises for people who hit 1900 hours. The double bump extends nationally, across all of Bingham’s offices. People who hit 1500 hours will only be getting a single class bump in salary. We understand that only a small percentage of Bingham associates were low enough on hours to be affected by this stratification.

At the low end, people who billed fewer than 1500 hours will have their salaries frozen again.

On the bright side, all of the people who are frozen will have their hours reevaluated in June. If they’re on pace, they’ll get their money.

The Bingham McCutchen lockstep base pay structure is clear and straightforward (see chart after the jump). For bonuses, welcome to the black box that is merit-based compensation.

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Jenner Block logo.JPGWe’ve been having some fun documenting the curious game of chicken happening in Chicago. The top firms in the city seem to be waiting for each other to set the associate salary market — even though that market has already been set.

Kirkland set the market by never freezing associate salaries in the first place. Mayer Brown finally blinked and raised salaries. Sidley is still waiting — we’re not sure why, but they are waiting.

At Jenner & Block, “merit-based” salary increases are in effect. But the raise — at least for some people — is nowhere near market salary. One tipster reports:

The situation is bad at Jenner Block. You should write about how cheap the firm is. A title should be something like: “PPP up 33%, Associate Bonuses 33% of Last Years.” Well that is the truth. For the past two years associates who made hours have gotten 5k raises and all others have gotten zero. So, the salary scale, for those that have consistently made hours (worse if you slip a year or have a slow department), is effectively: 160k, 165k, 170k, 180k…. the more senior you get the more the gap between Jenner and the market.

And for bonuses, this year they start at 2k, even for 3rd years.

Well, $5,000 here, $5,000 there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money. I’m sure if our Jenner friends just hang in there for another decade, they will be very happy with their compensation.

According to spokespersons for Jenner & Block, our tipsters are incorrectly reporting their salaries. But the firm isn’t very clear on what salaries Jenner folks are actually receiving.

Details and a statement from the firm, after the jump.

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Pillsbury logo.JPGIt looks like Pillsbury is back to communicating important information via firm-wide memo, instead of via cell phone conversation on the Acela. Yesterday, the firm indicated that it is thinking about moving away from lockstep associate compensation, but it is not killing lockstep just yet.

Instead, Pillsbury announced lockstep raises — they’ll be true up raises if you hit your hours in New York. In other offices, Pillsbury has decided to lowball the market. From the firm-wide memo:

Pillsbury salary bonus 2010 1.JPG

Pillsbury salary bonus 2010 2.JPG

So, it’s a true-up raise for some, a single class thaw out for those low on hours, and a salary cut for many outside of New York. But at least it’s clear.

Pillsbury’s New York bias when it comes to salaries extends to the firm’s decisions regarding bonuses. Details after the jump.

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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGWe’re still catching up on associate bonus news. There have been some memos we’ve missed, including some from last month (technically, last year). If we haven’t reported on your firm’s bonus announcement, please email us. Don’t assume that one of your colleagues will submit the memo; that’s not necessarily the case.

Today we belatedly bring you bonus news from Kasowitz Benson. On December 31, the firm announced “benchmark” bonuses that appear to follow the Sullivan & Cromwell scale. But the memo notes that these are just “benchmark amounts, which are subject to adjustment to reflect individual performance and hours worked.” In the memo’s bonus table, the words “of up to” appear in between the words “Year-end bonus” and the dollar amount.

In addition, even some Kasowitz associates who received the full market amount aren’t happy. Find out why, and check out the full memo, after the jump.

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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGCongratulations to the associates at Irell & Manella. The firm announced its 2009 bonuses last week, and they were good — very good.

Irell took the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale, which is effectively “market” for the top New York firms, and then DOUBLED IT. There was no memo — the information was communicated in an associate-wide meeting — but we have confirmed the following:

  • To associates who hit the billable hours target of 1900 hours, Irell paid bonuses that, in total, were double those paid by Sullivan & Cromwell and similar New York firms. Bonuses ranged from $15,000 for the class of 2008 to $70,000 for the class of 2002.
  • The bonuses were lockstep by seniority — i.e., not just paid to a handful of star performers or super-high billers. If you hit 1900 hours, you got the designated bonus for your class year.

The success of lockstep firms like Irell raises the question: Is lockstep the way to go? If you’ll be in Irell’s hometown of Los Angeles this Thursday, Elie and yours truly are doing two events, and one of them is a debate about lockstep. For information and RSVP details, see here.

The full Irell bonus table, plus additional information, after the jump.

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