Associate Compensation

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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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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It looks like 2013 was another strong year for the litigation powerhouse of Quinn Emanuel. The firm continued to rack up victories for clients around the world. It opened offices in Sydney and Hong Kong. It landed a major mass-torts group from Skadden. And it named a whopping 13 new partners.

(One of those new partners is Jordan Goldstein, who makes a cameo in the recent New York Times obituary of noted pornography publisher Al Goldstein: “After his son, Jordan, disinvited him to his graduation from Harvard Law School, Mr. Goldstein published doctored photos showing Jordan having sex with various men and with his own mother, Mr. Goldstein’s third ex-wife, Gena.” Charming.)

Given the continued success of Quinn Emanuel, it seems that some associates were hoping for better bonuses. Let’s hear what they have to say….

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Congratulations to Northwestern University and Northwestern Law. The university just announced a $25 million gift, and $15 million of that will go to the law school.

The gift comes from Northwestern Law alum Neil Bluhm, who has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion. Although Bluhm made his fortune as a real estate and casino magnate, he took his first steps towards wealth in Biglaw. Bluhm worked as an associate and then a partner in the Chicago office of Mayer Brown.

Speaking of Mayer Brown, the firm’s New York office just announced bonuses. Could they be the first big bucks banked by budding billionaires?

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The past few months have been good ones for Morrison & Foerster. The firm, which secured an impressive victory for longtime client Apple in the smartphone wars, could end up getting part of its $60 million in fees paid by the losing party, Samsung. MoFo has also been adding new talent at a good clip, including D.C. securities partners Martin Dunn and Scott Lesmes (formerly of O’Melveny & Myers), London restructuring partner Howard Morris (formerly of SNR Denton), and a slew of partners (formerly of Hogan Lovells) who opened MoFo’s new Berlin office.

So the news about lateral partners at Morrison & Foerster is exciting. Can the same be said about associate bonuses in the New York office, the first MoFo outpost to announce?

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These are interesting times for Sidley Austin. Lately the firm has had lots of good news, such as its big expansion in Texas, counterbalanced by a little bad news (for an individual partner).

That’s at the partner level. What’s going on among the associate ranks?

Bonuses — announced and paid last week. Among the firms that do individualized rather than lockstep bonuses, Sidley is one of the earliest movers.

So how are Sidley Austin associates feeling about their 2013 year-end bonuses?

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Lat here. Going into the 2013 Biglaw bonus season, indicators were looking mixed.

Cravath, the supremely prestigious and profitable law firm that’s the traditional market leader on bonuses — as in the firm most widely followed by other firms, not necessarily the firm that pays the biggest bonuses — announced another large partner class. Last year, that boded well for bonuses.

On the other hand, Biglaw’s overall performance has been somewhat anemic this year. The stock market might be hitting new highs, but many law firms are running in place.

People have been waiting forever for Cravath to make its big announcement. Now the wait is over: at 4:45 p.m. today, Cravath announced its 2013 year-end bonuses.

How are they looking? What’s getting stuffed inside associate stockings this holiday season?

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