Associate Bonus Watch

David Boies

Associate bonuses at market-leading Cravath and all of Cravath’s followers are staying the same this year. As I’ve stated in these pages, and on CNBC and Bloomberg, this is a good thing. In times of uncertainty and instability for Biglaw, treading water is a victory.

But just because this year’s bonuses are good news doesn’t mean there isn’t better news out there. Today the better news comes from the litigation powerhouse of Boies Schiller & Flexner, where the average bonus was $85,000 and the top bonus was $300,000 — even higher than last year’s $250,000.

Even if you bill like a maniac — and BSF’s compensation system does reward the industrious — how on earth do you get to a $300,000 bonus? We spoke with legendary litigator David Boies, founding partner and chairman of the firm, to find out….

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Back in 2007, Simpson Thacher led the charge to $160,000. Not Cravath, not Skadden, not Sullivan & Cromwell — it was STB that was first out of the gate with associate salary raises. Simpson Thacher is one of the most respected law firms in the country, and it used to be a compensation leader.

But those days appear to be long gone. Now, the firm is just a follower. Its theories about associate compensation seem to have nothing to do with the health of the firm, and everything to do with doing whatever Cravath tells it to do.

Associates are the firm seem quite disappointed by that….

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Last week, we joked about the glacial pace of the 2013 Biglaw bonus season. After all, Cravath made its announcement on December 9, and in that time, we’ve only heard from as many firms as days have passed since that time — seven.

Well, maybe things are finally heating up. Yesterday afternoon, two more firms sent out word of their associate bonuses by class.

We know Paul Weiss is looking hot, hot, hot these days, but were their bonuses just as sexy? And what about the bonuses at Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm that posted a double-digit increase in gross revenue?

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(Plus Bonus News From Bracewell & Giuliani)”

Happy Monday, everyone! What better way to start a new week than to bring you more bonus news?

As it turns out, Willkie Farr and Shearman & Sterling weren’t the only firms to participate in the Friday afternoon bonus dump. Two more firms broke word of their bonus intentions before the weekend, and now the question on everyone’s minds is whether they bucked the system and beat Cravath.

We’ve got the announcements from Cadwalader and Proskauer Rose for your viewing pleasure. Did either firm have the guts to top Cravath’s market rate?

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Is it our imagination, or is the 2013 bonus season unfolding at a glacial pace? Maybe because these bonuses are just the reheated bonuses from last year, they feel like they’re coming out of the fridge.

Cravath announced on Monday. Skadden announced on Tuesday. Cleary announced on Wednesday. Nobody announced on Thursday (as far as we know; if we missed your firm’s announcement, please email us or text us (646-820-8477)).

Today we got the Friday afternoon bonus news dump. We have announcements from Willkie Farr and Shearman & Sterling. What are these two firms doing?

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We’ve seen a surprising amount of drama emanate from the normally hushed halls of One Liberty Plaza in 2013. Cleary Gottlieb, one of Biglaw’s best firms, has been the site of contention and controversy regarding irate ex-staffers, support staff stealth layoffs, and a summer associate with a dark past.

Some of our Cleary readers and sources have objected to this coverage as painting a misleading picture of goings-on at CGSH. Their general view: all this drama is limited to the ranks of support staff — who have been coddled over the years, and are finally now being forced to be more productive. When it comes to the lawyers at Cleary, it’s business as usual.[1]

Is it “business as usual” with respect to associate bonuses? Cleary just announced….

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Not many firms try to trump Cravath, the traditional market leader when it comes to year-end bonuses. Most major firms are followers.

There are a few exceptions, and one of the exceptions is Skadden Arps. Back in 2008, Skadden announced bonuses before Cravath, and those Skadden bonuses turned out to be much higher than Cravath’s. When most other firms subsequently followed Cravath instead of Skadden, my colleague Elie Mystal mocked these firms for their “Half-Skadden” bonuses.

Skadden just announced its 2013 year-end bonuses. Did it beat the Cravath bonuses, or did it join them?

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Lat here. Going into the 2013 Biglaw bonus season, indicators were looking mixed.

Cravath, the supremely prestigious and profitable law firm that’s the traditional market leader on bonuses — as in the firm most widely followed by other firms, not necessarily the firm that pays the biggest bonuses — announced another large partner class. Last year, that boded well for bonuses.

On the other hand, Biglaw’s overall performance has been somewhat anemic this year. The stock market might be hitting new highs, but many law firms are running in place.

People have been waiting forever for Cravath to make its big announcement. Now the wait is over: at 4:45 p.m. today, Cravath announced its 2013 year-end bonuses.

How are they looking? What’s getting stuffed inside associate stockings this holiday season?

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It’s Tuesday, November 26, past 5 p.m. Do you know where your bonus is?

When we surveyed our readership about 2013 law firm bonuses, 57 percent of respondents predicted that the first firm (traditionally Cravath) would announce during the week of Thanksgiving. That’s basically over. It’s theoretically possible we could get an announcement later tonight or sometime tomorrow, but it seems unlikely.

So what’s going on? Where. Are. The bonuses?

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It’s nearly that time of year, when all the grueling hours that Biglaw associates have put in will pay off in the form of fat bonuses. Or don’t pay off, with miserly bonuses, or nothing at all. Or something in between? Point being, we have no idea how the 2013 bonus season will play out. Presumably, the answer is buried somewhere deep in Allen Parker’s unknowable heart.

The signs thus far are not especially encouraging, at least for those with a vested interest. (Admittedly, for most, this is all much ado about white-shoe people problems.)

Yes, Cravath might be doing well, at least if its large partner class is any indication. But on the subject of law firm 2013 profits in general, the Citi Bank Private Law Firm Group’s report on the first half of the year concluded:

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