Associate Bonuses

A major theme of the 2013 bonus season so far: WWSCD — What Will Sullivan & Cromwell Do? With a few exceptions — like Boies Schiller, land of the $300,000 bonuses — everyone has fallen in line behind Cravath.

But we (and many others) wondered whether S&C, Cravath’s arch-rival, might up the ante. As I wrote while discussing the Cleary Gottlieb bonuses, “When it comes to challenging the compensation dominance of Cravath, House Shenker (or should it still be House Rodge?) is the strongest contender. Recall that it was Sullivan & Cromwell’s generous 2011 spring bonuses that ignited a trend that spread throughout Biglaw.”

The other white shoe just dropped: S&C just announced. Did SullCrom beat Cravath? Or mention possible spring bonuses?

(Please note the UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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Another day, another round of Biglaw bonuses. Today is Hump Day, so why not pair our bonus news with some exciting lateral partner moves?

Earlier this week, Ropes & Gray announced its 2013 year-end bonus scale. It’s no Boies Schiller $300K bonus, that’s for sure, but it’s a tad more interesting than your run-of-the-mill Cravath match.

Keep reading for all of the details on the Ropes & Gray bonus, news on the firm’s latest partner class, and the announcement of a very recent lateral pick-up from a firm that’s bleeding partners….

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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)”

Well, the bonus scale has been set. Cravath led — by copying their bonus payments from last year — and now everybody is following. I’m on record saying that these bonuses are underwhelming and disappointing.

Gone are the days where the first-year bonus represented a significant chunk of your law school debt. Sure, you can pay down some interest with your bonuses, or you can prudently save it, or maybe even invest it. But you can also blow it. I mean, it’s a “bonus,” right? In this depressed market, your bonuses look less like deferred compensation and more like “found money.” Instead of making a fiscally sound decision, using your bonuses for profligate, discretionary spending might make you feel better. (Disclosure: Elie Mystal is not a registered financial adviser and is too… stupid to follow a budget.)

Bonuses range from $10,000 for first-year associates to $60,000 for senior people. Professor Paul Caron of Tax Prof Blog tells me that associates can expect to take home about 60% percent of that, depending on where they live and how many dependents they have.

What can a young lawyer buy with that? In addition to what’s in the ATL holiday gift guide, here are 10 things…

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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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