Associate Bonus Watch 2010

In our coverage last month of top law firm partners to work for, Wilson Sonsini did well. See here and here.

(Speaking of Wilson Sonsini partners, the firm recently announced nine new ones — including Rick Frenkel, of “Troll Tracker” fame. Congratulations!)

Not only does WSGR have some great partners to work for, but they will also pay you if you work there. Getting paid is… nice.

How much will Wilson Sonsini associates receive in 2010 bonuses and 2011 base salaries?

Let’s look at the memo that went out yesterday….

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This week brought annual reviews and individual bonus news for associates at Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Today (Friday) is payday, so everyone at MLB should know their bonus by now (or fairly soon).

Back in November, firm chairman Francis M. Milone stated that 2010 bonuses would be “substantially larger” than last year. So that set expectations fairly high.

Did the MLB bonuses live up to the hype?

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Springtime for Hitler? No, silly — Springtime for Associate Bonuses! And just like the (in)famous “show within a show” from The Producers, this production is a huge hit.

This afternoon, Cleary Gottlieb announced spring bonuses on the Sullivan & Cromwell scale. They’re payable on April 29, just like those of Simpson Thacher.

What else is there to say?

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Wow, it’s starting to feel like 2008 (pre-Lehman) up in here! Earlier today, the Dow Jones broke the 12,000 mark. And now law firms — law firms that could treat their associates like dirt and still have have no problems with retention, according to some people — are once again competing with each other in terms of associate bonuses.

Multiple sources report that Simpson Thacher has matched the springtime bonuses announced last week by Sullivan & Cromwell. The STB bonuses will be paid on Friday, April 29, 2011.

What does this mean for associates at so-called “peer firms” of S&C and STB?

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Layoffs dropped sharply in 2010.

This evening, many of us — and six Supreme Court justices, according to an announcement this morning from the Court — will listen to the State of the Union address. Don’t be shocked if President Obama tells us that the state of the union is “strong.” When was the last time a president appeared before us to announce that the union is in shambles? (Even Jimmy Carter never did that.)

The truth lies somewhere in between strength and shambles. And that’s true not just of the United States, but of the world of large law firms.

Let’s talk about two indicators: layoffs, and bonuses — including a reader poll, on whether firms will match Sullivan & Cromwell’s yummy spring bonuses….

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Friday afternoons are for bad news. When you have some news that you want to disappear into the ether, you announce it on Friday afternoon. It’s a favorite time for disgraced D.C. figures to resign from office in order to “spend more time with their families.”

So why did Sullivan & Cromwell, one of the world’s most prestigious and profitable law firms, decide to announce good news — namely, generous spring bonuses for its associates — late on a Friday afternoon? (Was it perhaps in response to the Latham bonus news from earlier today?)

Yes, Cravath and Skadden and Davis Polk associates, you read that right. S&C is paying out healthy springtime bonuses. They’re supplemental to the 2010 year-end bonuses that S&C announced back in December.

So how much are we talking about? And when will these amounts hit associate bank accounts?

Let’s find out….

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Last month, when the world was bemoaning the Biglaw associate bonus market after Sullivan & Cromwell’s bonuses more or less fell in line with Cravath’s bonuses, I wrote as follows: “I’m keeping my eye out for Latham. It fits with their model. In bad times, suffering to all. In good times, models and bottles…. Latham survivors might get 2010 bonuses that trounce the former market leaders like Sullivan & Cromwell.”

Well, Latham & Watkins just announced its associate bonuses. Latham is a firm that gives out individualized bonuses, but the median payments by class year seem to be higher than the bonuses given out by Cravath, Sullivan & Cromwell, and the firms that followed them.

UPDATE: The preceding sentence was written before S&C’s springtime bonuses were announced.

So what is the Latham lucre looking like?

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Last month, the Boston Globe reported on an arbitrator’s finding that Goodwin Procter overcharged a real estate client by more than $540,000. (We mentioned the Globe story here and here.)

Alas, some claim that Goodwin isn’t letting that extra gravy trickle down to its associates….

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(Yes, this is late, but better late than never. If you have bonus news or a bonus memo that we have not yet written up — run a site search or scroll through our archives to check what we’ve already covered — please email us. Thanks.)

Last month, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher announced associate bonuses. As we explained last year, GDC pays individualized bonuses, based on such factors as hours or quality of work. So here’s an open thread for anonymous comparison of Gibson bonuses.

We received a little detail about Gibson’s bonuses this year….

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In a previous post, we revealed that 73% of respondents to our survey met their minimum billable requirements last year.  Today, we find out whether associates were satisfied with receiving 2009-level bonuses for a busier 2010.

Let’s see what the survey says….

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