Associate Bonus Watch

Congratulations to Bingham McCutchen, which recently earned a spot on Fortune’s best companies to work for — for the eighth year in a row. And congratulations to Bingham’s nine new partners. It’s a very international group: these seven men and two women work out of London (3), New York (3), Hong Kong (1), Boston (1), and Hartford (1).

And congratulations to high-billing associates at Bingham. They were rewarded with “extraordinary” bonuses, as set forth in the firm’s bonus memo….

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The firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has been a leader in instituting a merit-based compensation system. Two aspects of their system make Orrick’s commitment to merit-based seem genuine:

1. Partners put in significant time so that merit evaluations are more than just hours cut-offs.
2. Orrick is transparent about how many people get paid.

You can’t run a merit-based system with a Jones Day-like approach to transparency without everybody feeling like they are secretly getting screwed. If you do it out in the open, at least the low-hanging fruit will know that other, better work paid off for others in their class.

So let’s look at the memo. While Orrick generally does a good job of looking at associate productivity instead of mere man-hours, make no mistake, the firm still wants you to bill, and in a timely fashion….

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Today everyone’s talking tech, thanks to Facebook’s upcoming IPO. In light of how Silicon Valley is dominating the news cycle, it seems fitting to discuss the recent bonus and salary news from Wilson Sonsini — one of SV’s top firms, and counsel over the years to many startup companies turned tech giants.

(But not Facebook, at least with respect to the IPO. That’s being handled by Fenwick & West and Simpson Thacher.)

So what kind of bonuses did WSGR just announce? Let’s find out….

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I was getting a little worried yesterday about the state of Biglaw bonuses. But a new day brings a new hope. Yesterday, Law360 (subscription req.) reported that Finnegan broke off a huge bonus payment that once again highlights how cheap Cravath and other Biglaw firms following Cravath have been this season.

Don’t get me wrong, Finnegan is a smallish “boutique” firm. And their bonuses are merit based as opposed to lockstep. It’s exactly the kind of place where they can post an eye-popping top number for the highest performing associates, while the rank and file aren’t doing all that well.

But even if Finnegan’s bonuses aren’t quite as magnificent as the firm would like you to believe, they still look impressive when compared to the low numbers Cravath and other lockstep followers have been dishing out. Eventually, you have to think that some of Cravath’s top talent will leave and try their hand someplace where their talents and hard work will be rewarded with cash….

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In case you were wondering, it’s pretty much time to panic about the lack of spring bonuses. Believe it or not, Biglaw could actually allow bonuses to go down despite soaring profits. But that’s a post for another day.

The bad news today is that after a trend of firms easily topping the low bonuses set by the former “market leaders” at Cravath, we’re now looking at a firm that claims it is top tier, but is paying demonstrably less than the already sad CSM bonus amount.

Well, check that, if you bill upwards of 2400 hours at the firm, you might make a little more than your counterparts at Cravath. And hell, if you bill upwards of 2800 hours, you might really do well for yourself (which should help with the alimony payments after your spouse divorces you). But if you are just a standard, 2000 hour biller, the firm didn’t even match Cravath.

I don’t know, maybe making a pathetic bonus payment isn’t so much of an issue in Washington, D.C.?

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Well, spring bonuses are officially late. Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21. Here we are on January 23rd, and we’re still waiting.

It’s too early to worry. Cravath essentially check-raised S&C with spring bonuses last year. There’s a good chance S&C is just trying to figure out how to avoid having that happen again.

I still think spring bonuses will be coming. There are just too many firms paying out more than Cravath in terms of bonus. Cravath partners might be getting high fives from partners around Biglaw for helping to keep bonuses low. But there are so many firms blowing past Cravath (and Cravath followers) that, eventually, the very smart people Cravath hires will wake up and realize they can make more money elsewhere.

The latest firm to make Cravath bonuses look small is Latham & Watkins. Their median bonus is especially more generous than CSM’s as people become midlevel or senior associates….

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Tomorrow, associates at Goodwin Procter will receive individualized news of their bonuses. You may recall that last month, when ATL’s new director of research, Brian Dalton, compiled a list of Biglaw’s ten most generous firms — i.e., the ten firms that pay the best bonuses, when measured against their profits per partner — Goodwin did good, winning fourth place. (The firm fares well in rankings; last month, it made Crain’s list of best places to work in New York.)

Will this year’s bonuses preserve Goodwin’s good standing? Let’s find out. Although the individual amounts are being communicated tomorrow, the firm has outlined its overall approach in a memo….

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At the start of this new year, what is the outlook like for legal employment? There’s certainly a fair amount of bad news out there, particularly for recent law school graduates.

But what about for denizens of Biglaw, the lawyers fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to work at the nation’s largest law firms? What does 2012 hold for them?

Earlier this month, my colleague Elie made some predictions for the legal profession. I will follow in his footsteps and venture some prophecies of my own for the year….

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We’re still catching up on bonus news that broke over the holidays. Remember, if we missed your firm, please let us know at [email protected].

Just after Christmas, Dechert announced its 2011 end-of-year bonuses. I guess you’d call it a “match” of the Cleary Gottlieb scale. Dechert is paying a pro-rated bonus to first-year associates and has a top payment of $42,500 for very senior associates.

But Dechert isn’t a lockstep firm. You have to meet a requirement in order to get the bonus. That requirement looks very much like an hours requirement, but Dechert doesn’t want you (or its clients) to think that they have an hours requirement — so they have some kind of nebulous performance requirement that can most easily be defined with reference to hours.

Oh, and they’ll dock you if you didn’t input your time, on time, throughout the year….

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The pace of announcements may have slowed down a bit, but make no mistake: we’re still in associate bonus season. If you have bonus news that we haven’t covered, even announcements dating back to last month, please email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Bonus Memo”). We’re trying to keep as accurate a record as we can of Biglaw bonuses, but we can’t do it without your help. Please don’t assume that someone else will send in the memo; that’s not always the case.

Now, on to today’s bonus news, which comes to us from Kasowitz Benson. The litigation powerhouse, which describes itself as “a national law firm primarily focusing on complex and sophisticated commercial litigation, numbering 375 lawyers,” announced its bonuses last Thursday, January 5.

So how much is Uncle Marc paying to the superior legal minds who work for him?

UPDATE (3:20 PM): Speaking of Gregory Berry, Justice Eileen Bransten of New York State Supreme Court just dismissed Berry’s $77 million lawsuit against Kasowitz.

UPDATE (1/10/12): Read all about the dismissal here.

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