Associate Bonuses

The law firm of Goodwin Procter is in the news these days. Some of the firm’s top trial lawyers are defending Mathew Martoma — formerly of SAC Capital and Harvard Law School, where he famously falsified a transcript — in one of the biggest and most exciting insider-trading cases in history.

(Fun fact: one of the members of Martoma’s trial team, Roberto Braceras, is the son-in-law of Judge José A. Cabranes. So if the Martoma case ever winds up before the Second Circuit, Judge Cabranes may have to recuse.)

Martoma earned millions while at SAC Capital, and some of that money will be making its way into the coffers of Goodwin Procter. And some of that money will then get paid out as associate bonuses, which the firm recently announced….

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When it comes to law firm bonus news, there’s no such thing as “too late.” Heck, we covered Wachtell Lipton’s bonuses for 2011 and 2012 just last week.

If you have Biglaw bonus news that we have not yet covered, please email us or text us (646-820-8477). We’re always happy to hear from you.

Last month, Dechert announced the price it pays for associate talent. Let’s travel down this bonus road, shall we?

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When you read about a multibillion-dollar, highly contested corporate takeover, there’s a decent chance that Wachtell Lipton is involved. The firm, which routinely tops the American Lawyer’s profits per partner rankings and Vault’s prestige rankings, is known for its expertise in mergers and acquisitions.

Charter Communications’ unsolicited $61 billion bid for Time Warner Cable? Yup, Wachtell is on the scene, representing Charter (with help from Kirkland & Ellis). If a deal goes through, count on an eight-figure fee for Wachtell.

And some of that lucre will trickle down to associates. Wachtell Lipton is known for gigantic bonuses, which can match (or even occasionally exceed) an associate’s base salary.[1] And it pays out bonuses in lockstep fashion, without regard to hours (unlike, say, Boies Schiller, another firm famous for its generous bonuses).[2]

How were Wachtell bonuses in 2013? Inquiring minds want to know. Alas, we don’t have the 2013 info (yet) — but here’s what we’ve heard about 2011 and 2012….

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One of the most noteworthy deals of the new year is Google’s recently announced $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest Labs, a maker of Internet-connected devices like thermostats and smoke alarms that was founded by former Apple engineers. Orrick, a firm known for its strong roster of tech clients, is advising Nest. The Orrick team is led by the firm’s chairman, Mitchell Zuklie.

That’s not the only noteworthy news out of Orrick this week. Yesterday the firm announced its 2013 associate bonuses. How are they looking?

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This is the latest in a new series of ATL infographics — visual representations of our own proprietary data, relevant third-party data, “anecdata,” or just plain jokes. This infographic is brought to you by our friends at Prestige Legal Search. Earn another $5,000 to $50,000 with their Rewards Program.

For the most part, Biglaw associate bonuses remain stuck at last year’s levels, reflecting expectations that firm profits will be flat at best. This might seem fair, with everyone feeling the pinch of the “New Normal” and so on. But when we take a small step back and see how these bonus numbers compare as a percentage of partner profits to the bonuses of just a few years ago, these bonuses are arguably pretty measly.

The current $10,000 “market” (i.e., Cravath-following) rate for first-years is just 0.29% of Cravath’s profits per partner (according to the American Lawyer). Back in 2007, first-year bonuses equaled 1.36% of PPP. In other words, the Cravath partnership was nearly five times more generous to its associates back then.

Obviously, Cravath is among the most profitable firms in the world. What are the implications of matching Cravath’s bonus scale for those firms with much lower profit margins? Today’s infographic takes a look at how big a hit to PPP partners willingly take in order to Keep Up With The Cravathians….

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It may be 2014, but Biglaw firms are still rolling out their 2013 year-end bonuses. While some firms are busy cutting supplemental checks for their associates, others are just getting around to making their first round of payments.

If you have any bonus news that we haven’t covered, even announcements dating back to last year, please email us or text us (646-820-8477). We’re trying to keep as accurate a record as we can of Biglaw bonuses that were announced in 2013, but we can’t do it without your help.

As for today’s bonus news, we’ve just received word that Kasowitz Benson unveiled its bonus structure yesterday afternoon. This is standard fare for the litigation powerhouse, which typically announces during the first full week of the new year. So what’s the good word on 2013′s bonuses? Did associates get more money if their legal minds were superior to all others?

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As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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Earlier this year, partner bonuses at Hogan Lovells generated some controversy across the pond. Certain partners in London questioned the process by which payments were determined and wondered whether partners in management received too much relative to rank-and-file partners. Squabbles over partner pay are something the firm’s incoming CEO, D.C.-based Stephen Immelt, can look forward to addressing when he takes over next summer.

Let’s now turn from partner pay in London to associate pay in New York. The NYC office of Ho-Love recently showed its associates some love, in the form of year-end bonuses. Were they as controversial as the London partner payouts?

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The elite California law firm of Irell & Manella is a top firm for diversity. It’s a top firm for associate satisfaction. And, on a related note to associate satisfaction, it’s a top firm for bonuses.

Year-end bonuses at Irell & Manella for associates who meet their hours typically beat the New York market by a healthy amount. In recent years, they’ve been as high as twice the Cravath scale.

Alas, that’s not the case this year. But the Irell bonuses are still nothing to scoff at….

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The law firm of Kirkland & Ellis has a colorable claim to being the nation’s best overall law firm. It’s so big, it’s so profitable, and it’s so strong across such a wide range of practice areas, from bankruptcy to products liability litigation to private equity to M&A.

(No, my holiday punch wasn’t spiked with Kirkland Kool-Aid; I think this is an objective assessment. I’m not saying K&E definitively is the best firm, just that it has a decent claim to the crown. And note the “overall” qualifier: different firms may beat Kirkland in different specific practices, but K&E has an impressively broad range of strengths.)

So Kirkland might be the best firm in the country. Does it pay the best bonuses?

In years past, you’d often hear the refrain that “Kirkland SHATTERS the market” on bonuses. But this year, according to our K&E sources, it seems like the firm is content to merely scratch the bonus ceiling….

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