Associate Bonus Watch

It appears that the answer to that question is, “You’re welcome.”

If you made a list of people whose opinions matter when it comes to Biglaw bonuses, you couldn’t name ten people more important than Susan Webster. She’s the head of the general corporate practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore. If we knew how much she tipped her doorman, it would be big news.

But we can do better than that.

A tipster let us in on an overheard conversation between Webster and a Biglaw partner at a different firm. When we contacted her, Webster told us that the tipster mischaracterized the nature of her accidentally public conversation.

But why don’t you take a look, and prepare yourself for the possibility of a very sad spring….

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Partners at Gibson Dunn are conducting associate reviews this week. Associates receive news of how they’re doing — and how much they’ll be getting, in terms of bonuses that will be paid out later this month.

As we’ve explained in 2010 and 2009, the GDC bonus system is not transparent and not lockstep. Instead, associates get individualized bonuses, based on such factors as hours and quality of work. The firm tends to use the Cravath scale as the starting point for its bonus scale.

What’s the early word about Gibson bonuses this year?

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(Or: Gibson Dunn Open Thread — 2011)”

MOAR BONUS NEWS!

Enough with all this sadness about these pathetically low bonuses that Cravath has engineered for everybody. Let’s try to be positive. People are getting money. Yay money. Who can be sad when they are getting more money?

In fact, I have a great idea: instead of just writing checks that reflect the general New York bonus scale, Clifford Chance and Covington & Burling should pay the bonuses out in single dollar bills. The partners should sneak into each associate’s office at night and just spread the money around. If you share an office, well, the early bird gets the worm.

See, then it’s fun. It’s a like a game. And it distracts the mind from how ridiculous it is to give the same bonus from 2010 in 2011….

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[We were going to call this post something like "Associate Bonus Watch: Susman Godfrey Beats Cravath Too." But then we felt bad for singling out Cravath for paying unsatisfying bonuses, when so many other Biglaw firms have followed suit. So we went with a tamer title instead.]

Just as it did last year, the powerhouse litigation boutique of Susman Godfrey announced associate bonuses that put the bonus scales of most other firms to shame. Happy Holidays, Susman Godfrey associates!

(By the way, Susman is a firm that celebrates the season in high style. The holiday party of its New York office, catered by acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, is already legendary, even though it’s of fairly recent vintage.)

So, the Susman bonuses — what are we looking at here?

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Last year, Cravath initially low-balled the bonus market, and Cahill Gordon made them look foolish by using the Cravath scale as a floor for its bonuses. This year, Cravath has come out with another crappy bonus scale, and Cahill is beating the bag out of it again.

This year, Cahill is making a “special bonus” payment right now, in time for everybody’s next paycheck. This is before they even delve into the regular year-end bonuses that Cravath has set at such a low mark.

So just how special are these special bonuses?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Bonus Watch: It’s Cahill Time (aka Time for Cravath Associates To Feel Bad, Again)”

It’s beginning to look a lot like last year’s Christmas at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. CWT announced yesterday that it would be matching the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale. It starts at $7,500 for the class of 2010 and tops out at $42,500 for the class of 2003 and more senior. All bonuses will be paid in early February 2012.

But what about spring bonuses? And is Cadwalader planning to show any love for the class of 2011?

Let’s take a look at the memo and find out….

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Bonuses have just been announced at Paul Weiss. The firm is matching what we’ll call the Cleary Gottlieb scale, which seems to be the most generous bonus schedule among the main-line law firms (i.e., excluding outliers like Boies Schiller and Wachtell Lipton).

The Cleary scale provides for (1) prorated bonuses for class of 2011 members and (2) a top payment of $42,500 for the most-senior lawyers (class of 2003 on up). We’re calling it the “Cleary scale” because some firms that pay a stub bonus to the class of 2011 top out at $37,500 (e.g., Milbank), and some firms that go all the way up to $42,500 don’t pay stub bonuses (e.g., Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher).

(These are some pretty fine — and minor — distinctions. As Elie just grumpily remarked to me, “Remember when setting the market involved making it rain instead of figuring out if any pee got on the toilet seat?”)

In any event, it’s nice that Paul Weiss is taking care of its people at both the top and bottom of the seniority scale. Let’s look at the memo….

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The pulchritudinous law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell just announced its year-end bonuses. Are they as hot as DPW attorneys?

Apparently not. One of the sources who sent it our way had this one-word summary: “Ugh.” Said a second: “Bummed but not surprised.”

The Davis Polk bonus scale matches the Sullivan & Cromwell scale. It starts at $7,500 for the class of 2010 and tops out at $42,500 for the class of 2003 and more senior.

Is there a stub bonus for the class of 2011? What about mention of spring bonuses?

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This is my least favorite post to write every year. The Debevoise & Plimpton bonuses were just announced. So now it’s time for me to sit back and marvel at how much money I personally left on the table when I decided to quit Debevoise what feels like a lifetime ago.

In fact, the very first time I can remember hearing about the website “Above the Law” was when a person sitting next to me in a cubicle at the New York Press said: “Jesus Elie, your old firm just paid twice as much in bonus than we’ll make this year. It’s all over this Above the Law site.”

Ah, but it’s not like that this year. This year, Debevoise is just matching the S&C bonuses that aren’t overly impressive. Bottom rail on top now, mister….

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The floodgates are open and we are awash in bonus news. Sources are reporting that Simpson Thacher and Cleary Gottlieb are both matching the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale.

That means a little extra money for those at the very top of the scale.

But does it mean spring bonuses?

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