Associate Bonus Watch

We’re past Columbus Day, or as Daniel Snyder calls it, “Redskin Extermination Appreciation Day.” That means Biglaw bonus season is just around the corner.

Last year, Cravath kicked off bonus season late. They didn’t make an announcement until around Thanksgiving, the last Monday in November. But in the past few years, Cravath has announced as early as the first Monday in November. So bonuses should be here soon and might be here in a couple of weeks.

Will they be good? The difference between a good bonus and a crappy bonus has a lot to do with your expectations. What are yours?

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As we recently mentioned, 2012 was a banner year for O’Melveny & Myers, in terms of legal work performed and the resulting financial rewards. According to Am Law, “the firm set new records in profits per partner and revenue per lawyer, with the former surging 19.4 percent, to $2.06 million, and the latter rising nearly 10 percent, to $1.1 million.”

O’Melveny’s gross revenue grew by 5.1 percent, to $818.5 million. It’s great to see a law firm with top-line growth. Many firms these days can’t grow total revenue or revenue per lawyer; they just try to cut expenses, resorting to layoffs and similar tactics, to improve profits per partner.

Did OMM’s improved PPP trickle down to associates, in the form of bonuses? Here’s what sources report….

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Everything’s humming along nicely at Bingham McCutchen. The firm just named 13 new partners, up from nine partners last year. The firm was once again honored by Fortune magazine as a best company to work for (which marks the ninth straight year, for those of you who are counting).

And the firm just announced its bonuses, both ordinary and “extraordinary.” Let’s see the numbers….

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We’re in the middle of what we previously referred to as the second wave of law firm bonus announcements. Later today, for example, we’ll write about the Latham & Watkins announcement from yesterday. (So far we’re hearing mixed things; if you’re at Latham and would like to opine on the bonuses, feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477).)

Right now we’re going to discuss the bonuses announced at Goodwin Procter (which actually just hired a partner, Brynn Peltz, away from Latham). The Goodwin bonus announcement came out on Tuesday of this week.

So what do 2012 bonuses at Goodwin Procter look like?

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Law firm bonus announcements come in two waves. In November and December, the New York-centric firms announce their bonuses (after taking their cue from Cravath). In January and February, the West Coast and also nationally oriented firms announce their bonuses for the prior year.

So the 2012 bonus season isn’t over, even though we’re now two weeks into 2013. Yesterday, for example, brought bonus news from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Orrick is a leader is the brave new world of “merit-based compensation.” What are they up to now?

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Merry Christmas, Quinn Emanuel billers.

Yesterday, we talked about the Quinn Emanuel bonuses. Many associates were angry, especially those who had billed a lot of hours in 2012. For some of those top billers, their bonuses were smaller than the same amount of work was worth last year.

Well, advocate and thou shalt receive. Quinn Emanuel just sent around a memo announcing that it will be increasing the top-end payments, to bring them in line with last year…

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Partners: Alright you associates, ready to get happy about bonuses?
Quinn Associate: I’d say we are.
Cravath Associate: Yeah, let’s sing it now!
Partners: Okay, Kirkland?
Kirkland Associate: Okay!
Partners: Okay, Cravath?
Cravath Associate: Okay!
Partners: Okay Quinn? … Quinn? … QUINN EMANUEL!!!
Quinn Associate: OKAY!!

Yes, the Chipmunk Christmas Song is the perfect holiday analogy for Biglaw bonus season this year. And not just because Biglaw associates do work that talking chipmunks could accomplish [zing]. I’m looking at associate reactions from all these firms, and it just seems like expectations are playing a much larger role than the actual dollar amounts.

You’ve got Cravath associates in the role of Theodore. Maybe they’re not as sharp as some of the others, but they’re just kind of happy to be here. Kirkland associates are playing Simon — nerdy and a bit grumpy, but they’re not going to make a big scene about it.

And then you have Quinn associates, playing Alvin, the diva. Their bonuses came out just before Christmas, and they seem really angry about this situation. Even though most of them are making more than Cravath.

I guess they were expecting a hula-hoop….

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We’re tempted to do what we proposed last year regarding Sidley Austin bonuses, by simply writing: “Sidley bonuses are out. The scale is not transparent, so some people may be happy with their bonuses and others may be unhappy. Here is an open thread for you to discuss. Thank you.”

That would at least spare us from some of the criticism we’ve received for our coverage of the Sidley bonuses in recent years. In 2010, we initially wrote a very positive post, which we got criticized for by people who saw it as too positive. In 2011, we went in the other direction, reporting that Sidley’s bonuses drew yawns from associates — an assessment that drew flak for us from happy campers at Sidley (and there are many happy campers at the firm; it enjoys an A- rating from ATL readers who work there).

So we realize that covering the sensitive subject of Sidley bonuses is a bit like trying to reach a budget deal: you can’t make everyone happy, just varying degrees of unhappy. But we’ll give it our best shot….

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Let’s not play around this year. Let’s not play the cute little game of waiting for Cravath to set the bonus market and then waiting for everybody to inevitably follow Cravath. Let’s not wait for a few outliers to “beat” Cravath while Cravath thinks about maybe doing spring bonuses.

Lower Manhattan is trying to dry off. New Jersey seemingly washed away. If Biglaw wants to help its own people, it’ll get money into their hands as quickly as possible. That’s what will help people in the Tri-State area recover as they clean up from the storm. Biglaw firms should announce (and pay) their bonuses, as soon as possible, so their associates can have some income certainty (and extra income) as they recover.

And Biglaw should end the miserly, recession-era trend of cutting or canceling staff bonuses. This year all the secretaries and paralegals who are being asked to come in and work under unreasonable circumstances should share in the massive profits generated by their firms.

Let’s not mess around. Get the bonuses, whatever they’re going to be, into the hands of the people who have earned them, so they can more easily manage their own personal disasters…

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Tracking associate bonuses at Cahill Gordon gets confusing. It seems that the firm is announcing or paying out associate bonuses every other month.

That’s an exaggeration, of course. But let’s look at the record. The firm paid summer bonuses back in July. It paid Cravath-scale bonuses back in January. And it paid “special bonuses” back in December.

Now we’re hearing more news about Cahill bonuses. Could this bode well for Biglaw bonuses generally?

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