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.
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….
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?
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.
(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….
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.
Associates bitch when partners won’t share the wealth, but nobody says a peep when legal support staff get shafted. The very concept of staff bonuses has gotten lost in the recession shuffle, despite the fact that the support staff who remain are being stretched so thin.
Well, it looks like Vinson & Elkins remembers that staff are people too. Today multiple tipsters report that legal support staff at V&E will be receiving a bonus. Our sources didn’t know how much they’re getting, but they’ll be getting something.
UPDATE: Reports a Vinson & Elkins source, “As a matter of clarification, the staff bonus that [was just announced] by V&E is an EXTRA bonus being paid by Management. V&E staff already received their normal staff bonuses in December. Viva la V&E!!”
Compare this to Jones Day. In November, the firm broke its legendary code of silence about compensation just to say that their staff would not be getting bonuses. That’s not nice. That’s like a recovering paraplegic going through years of physical therapy to get to the point where he can give his doctor the finger.
So really Vinson does deserve quite a bit of credit here. Good job by them.
And oh yeah, the firm also told associates that they would be getting bonuses this year… and suggested that the bonuses would be better than the Cravath scale….
We’ve devoted extensive coverage to associate bonuses. But what about bonuses for those lawyers who are neither associates nor partners (nor staff attoneys), referred to by most large law firms as “counsel”? How much are they getting in bonuses this time around?
Many Biglaw bonus memos contain language stating that counsel bonuses are determined separately from associate bonuses and on an individual basis. As a result, the bonus market for counsel — or “special counsel,” or “of counsel,” or “senior attorneys,” or whatever your firm might call these folks — isn’t very transparent.
We want to hear about your firm’s bonus news, even if it’s old. If we haven’t reported on it yet, we want to know about it. (Use our site search box in the upper-right-hand corner, or scroll through our Associate Bonus Watch archives, to see which announcements we’ve already covered.)
Here’s some old bonus news (literally “last year’s” news). A few weeks ago, Shearman & Sterling announced its bonuses. They essentially matched the Cravath scale, but with the caveat (also issued last year) that they are at least partly “merit-based” — i.e., adjusted up or down based on performance. The S&S bonuses are being paid out on January 14.
Some Shearman associates might be upset by the lack of upward movement on bonuses. But at least one of them probably doesn’t care that much, since he enjoyed other income in 2010.
I’ll take “Lawyers Who Have Appeared on Jeopardy” for $1000, Alex….
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!