Associate Compensation

Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

We’ve been enjoying the occasional trip back in time to look at Biglaw in ages past. In prior Flashback Friday posts, we’ve covered such topics as the most prestigious law firms in 1998 and billable hours in the 1990s.

And, of course, we have covered compensation. We’ve done two posts so far looking at associate comp in the 1990s, in New York and in other cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Today we’ll close out the series with an overview of associate pay in the remaining markets of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C….

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It’s always sunny – or raining money? – in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia: it’s all about the Benjamin. The city abounds in tributes to its famous founding father, Benjamin Franklin. It even boasts a museum devoted to his life and times.

And maybe Philly will be all about the benjamins, plural — as in hundred-dollar bills. There’s speculation afoot that the new going rate for first-year associates in this city could rise to $160,000.

What’s the basis of the speculation? And could a Philadelphia pay raise have implications for other markets?

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Last month, we took a look at associate compensation in the 1990s. Our post focused on the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles. We said that in the future we’d look at remaining major markets: New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C.

Today we’ll tackle Biglaw in the Big Apple. What were NYC salaries like in the last millennium?

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Last month, when we covered BuckleySandler’s midyear bonuses, we included a shout-out to Cahill Gordon. Cahill has paid out generous summer bonuses to its associates dating back to 2010, and we wondered whether the firm would continue the streak.

The answer: yes. Cahill just announced its latest summer bonuses. The timing is good, since rising 2Ls will soon be picking which firms to interview with during on-campus recruiting. (Note Cahill Gordon’s nice rise in the latest Vault 100 rankings, which are widely consulted by law students during the OCI process.)

How big are the Cahill midyear bonuses this time around?

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Some of our readers are old enough to remember the 1990s. It was, in my opinion, a glorious decade for popular music. (I have a collection of beloved cassette singles from that era.)

But we’re here to talk about the legal profession, not pop music. What were the nineties like for Biglaw?

Also glorious. There was a recession in the early 1990s, but for the most part, times were good. This was especially true near the tail end of the decade, when the booming dot-com economy filled the coffers of many large law firms (before the arrival of the early 2000s recession).

How much of that wealth trickled down to the associates? Let’s find out….

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Despite making six figures, some Biglaw associates are still unhappy with the amount of money they take home. Starting salaries at some firms are larger than at others, and for all of the intense labor that comes with being an associate, it’s just not fair.

How should Biglaw firms respond to these complaints? Some of the more enlightened members of law firm leadership would increase their associates’ salaries to match the rest of the market, but most would happily continue to work their associates to the bone and ignore their wage woes.

One firm apparently thought it had found a way around associates’ salary grievances, but it may have just backfired. Straight from the firm that produced the sexist women’s style memo seen ’round the world, we bring you what seems to be one of the craziest incentive programs we’ve ever heard of…

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Earlier this month, we asked: What’s Going On At Kirkland & Ellis? Some observers wondered whether K&E, arguably the nation’s best overall law firm, was experiencing an unusually high number of prominent partner departures.

We received some interesting responses from Kirkland sources, some defending the firm and some more critical. Let’s hear what these readers had to share with us….

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Congratulations to the 10 new partners at Bingham McCutchen. They’re a diverse group, coming from a wide range of practice areas and six different offices. The gender balance could be better — only two of the new partners are women — but on the bright side, the group includes two former Supreme Court clerks.

And congratulations to Bingham McCutchen associates on their bonuses, which the firm announced yesterday. How are they looking?

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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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