Associate Bonus Watch 2010

It’s definitely a good Friday over at Akin Gump. The firm just announced spring bonuses.

Better late than never. We’ve been receiving complaints from financially achin’ Akin associates for weeks. Earlier this month, for example, one Akin Gump lawyer complained about the firm not paying spring bonuses despite robust profits in 2010 (profit per partner of $1.6 million, compared to 2009′s $1.5 million).

So Akin Gump partners had a good year in 2010, and now they’re spreading the wealth. Let’s take a look at what they’re doing with spring bonuses….

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The law firm of Vinson & Elkins, one of Texas’s top shops, once represented Enron. I was reminded of this fact in trying to write up V&E’s bonus news (year-end bonuses and spring bonuses, which the firm just announced). Lawyers at Vinson & Elkins seem to thrive on complexity — in the service of hiding what’s really going on with respect to money matters.

Trying to get a grasp on the V&E compensation system gave me a splitting headache. Unfortunately, because the firm plays such an important role in setting compensation for the Texas legal market, attention must be paid.

So let’s discuss the just-announced V&E spring bonuses, as well as the 2010 year-end bonuses that were announced in January 2011, and try to figure out what the heck is going on down there….

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On Friday, the firm of Mayer Brown announced supplemental bonuses for its U.S.-based associates (a few hours before Quinn Emanuel, which we’ll write up on Monday; we try to limit weekend writing because so few of you are around to read it).

Mayer Brown is using the Cravath spring bonus scale (shocker). The bonuses will be paid on or about May 13, 2011.

One MB tipster was pleasantly surprised: “I can barely believe it.” A second source was quite happy: “General reaction seems to be very positive, at least in the Chicago office.”

There are some eligibility requirements. Let’s take a look….

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What’s going on over at Orrick? Spring bonuses, that’s what — but with a twist.

As we’ve noted before, Orrick remains committed to merit-based compensation, even though some other firms that started moving away from lockstep have returned to it. Orrick’s approach to spring bonuses reflects the meritocratic orientation of its compensation.

Let’s have a look at what Orrick is doing here….

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You know associates are pissed when they end their emails to Above the Law with lines like this one, from a message we received last night:

NO ONE SHOULD COME HERE. EVERYONE HERE SHOULD LEAVE.

Jacob Riis photographs associates at one Biglaw firm

That’s what happens when you tell your associates that they’re going to get paid significantly below market and like it.

Several firms have not yet announced spring bonuses, and associates at these firms are annoyed. But there are only a handful of Biglaw firms that cut associate salaries back during the recession and have not yet brought their people back to market-level base compensation.

One of the firms that is lagging behind the rest of the market had an “all associates” conference call yesterday, during which management tried to explain why associates were being underpaid and undervalued by the firm.

Let’s just say that not everyone felt like a winner

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The law firm of Cromwell & Goodwin might be fake, but the law firm of Goodwin Procter is very real. As is the news of spring bonuses at the firm.

Whoops, sorry — make that “special bonuses.” That’s the terminology used by Goodwin Procter to refer to the supplemental payments.

Let’s look at the memo to see why….

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There’s lots of good news these days over at Dechert. For example, as we mentioned last week, the firm is launching a new Los Angeles office, built around a group of lateral partners lured over from Orrick.

This morning brings good news for Dechert associates and counsel as well. The firm just announced Cravath-level spring bonuses, to be paid to qualifying associates. We discuss the qualifications and reprint the full memo below.

Although Dechert is now a major international firm, it’s still associated in many people’s minds with Philadelphia, where it got its start. Does Dechert’s spring bonus announcement place pressure on firms that are headquarted in Philly or have significant presences in the City of Brotherly Love?

By the way, it appears that we never reported on Dechert’s 2010 year-end bonuses, which were announced in early February 2011. We discuss them as well, after the jump.

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Over the past few weeks, as springtime bonus news trickled in, we heard from a few associates at Bingham McCutchen. The exact wording varied, but their messages all sounded the same theme: Shouldn’t one of the best places to work offer one of the best pay packages? Or at least a pay package consistent with Biglaw market rates?

One reader had this suggestion: “Can you guys keep a running list of firms that paid spring bonuses and firms that haven’t? Preferably alphabetical, so Bingham is near the top of the no-pay list.”

Well, happily, no such shame sanctions will be necessary. Bingham has jumped into the spring bonus pool. Let’s see what they’re offering….

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Let’s all take a deep breath. Associate bonus season, which usually wraps up sometime in January, looks like it’s been extended well into April. This is just more proof that Biglaw firms don’t actually collude. No rational business person would want to be making decisions in April 2011 about how much to pay employees for 2010 performance.

For those trying to keep score, there seem to be the following categories of firms (roughly using a letter-grade system):

A – Firms that are paying Cravath-level spring bonuses in all offices. (Example: Cravath.) [FN1]
B – Firms that are paying Sullivan & Cromwell-level spring bonuses in all offices. (Example: S&C.)
C – Firms that are paying spring bonuses in New York but not elsewhere, like California or D.C.. (Example: Read more below.)
D – Firms that are not paying spring bonuses because their year-end bonuses beat the Cravath year-end bonuses, and they’re hoping their associates can’t add. (Example: CHECK YOU QUINN EMANUEL.)
F – Firms that are not paying spring bonuses and invite disgruntled associates to S some D if they don’t like it. (Example: Jones “We can still hear all the poors who live inside your black box” Day.)

Right now, we want to focus on Group C. Group B gets a pass because they started the spring bonus phenomenon and goddamnit we’re going to respect that. Partners at firms in Groups D & F will have to examine their own motives for why they want their associates to secretly hate them.

But Group C is weird. Why create inter-office jealousy and rage when most top firms are paying spring bonuses in all of their offices? Why look that desperate to save a little bit of money?

And you can’t spell “Weird Cost-Cutting” without White & Case

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Wow, it’s like White & Case’s attempt to glom on to the spring bonus trend just ticked off these other firms. First Sidley and now Morrison & Foerster have come out with real spring bonus announcements, detailing the amount of money associates can expect to get paid.

We’re running off to the We Know What You Should Do This Summer filming, so we can’t give you the full MoFo treatment. But it’s not that shocking that since O’Melveny, Latham and Gibson went with spring bonuses, MoFo kind of had to step up.

Congrats, MoFos. As one tipster put it, “Tell those bitches at GDC that Mofo makes it rain in Cali… Twenty grand, man. Plus, they gave Dude a beeper.”

Read the full memo below.

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