Back in 2009, when killing lockstep was all the rage, a number of large law firms announced that they would be moving to some form of a merit-based compensation system. Now that we’re a few years into those systems, how many firms have stuck with the plan? And which systems do associates prefer?
Of the 86 distinct Biglaw firms at which survey respondents work, 63% of the firms pay base salaries on a lockstep system, and the remaining 37% of firms use a merit-based system or hybrid-lockstep system for paying base salaries. The vast majority of respondents, 70%, say they prefer the lockstep model for base salaries because of its transparency and predictability.
For year-end bonuses, 70% of the firms utilize a merit-based or hybrid-lockstep system, while 30% have a lockstep system based either on class year or billable hours. According to 62% of respondents, the most preferred type of year-end bonus allocation system is a merit-based or hybrid-lockstep system.
After the jump, find out how various combinations of compensation systems measure up against market.
In the throes of the recession, many Biglaw firms jumped on the bandwagon to kill lockstep compensation in favor of a more merit-based system (though some have already fallen off the bandwagon). With a variety of compensation models currently in use among firms today, we want to hear from you about how you get compensated at your firm — and how you prefer to get compensated.
Please take our short survey, brought to you by Lateral Link, and tell us how you are compensated at your firm. Then check back later for the survey results. As always, your survey responses will be kept completely confidential.
It appears that Larry Sonsini, chairman and name partner of the high-powered Wilson Sonsini law firm, is a very good golfer. Earlier this year, while playing golf to celebrate his 70th birthday, the legendary lawyer scored a hole in one.
Sonsini isn’t the only one who’s scoring over at 650 Page Mill Road. His partners are doing deals left and right, and the fees are trickling down to the associates, who just scored some nice pay raises.
You know associates are pissed when they end their emails to Above the Law with lines like this one, from a message we received last night:
NO ONE SHOULD COME HERE. EVERYONE HERE SHOULD LEAVE.
Jacob Riis photographs associates at one Biglaw firm
That’s what happens when you tell your associates that they’re going to get paid significantly below market and like it.
Several firms have not yet announced spring bonuses, and associates at these firms are annoyed. But there are only a handful of Biglaw firms that cut associate salaries back during the recession and have not yet brought their people back to market-level base compensation.
One of the firms that is lagging behind the rest of the market had an “all associates” conference call yesterday, during which management tried to explain why associates were being underpaid and undervalued by the firm.
Well that didn’t take long, did it? On Tuesday afternoon, we wrote about associates at Winston & Strawn who were upset over the lack of news on seniority-based salary bumps. Since we’re well into a new year, associates at top law firms should be getting raises, with first-years becoming second-years ($160K to $170K), second-years becoming third-years ($170K to $185), etc. But the Winston tipsters hadn’t heard anything — even though historically they’ve received pay raise news in early February, and now it’s mid-March.
Today, however, the Winston associates received some good news — very good news, in fact. “Salary memos went out today,” one Winston source reported. “The bottom line is that those who were not at market rate now are. They’ve abandoned the ‘merits-based’ system and have gone back to lockstep.”
Wow. Is merit-based compensation becoming a casualty of the economic recovery? Back when merit-based systems were all the rage, we created a category on ATL called Killing Lockstep. Perhaps now it’s time to create ones called Killing Killing Lockstep, or Lockstep Resurrected?
Regardless of whether or not this becomes a trend throughout Biglaw, Winston associates are happy — and grateful….
As we’ve explained before, we want to hear about your law firm’s bonus news, even if it’s old. As long as we haven’t written it up yet, please consider it fair game. (Use our site search box in the upper-right-hand corner, or scroll through our Associate Bonus Watch archives, to see which announcements we’ve already covered.)
Earlier this week, associate bonuses were announced at McDermott Will & Emery. We’ve heard about the news from multiple McDermott sources — and, without exception, all expressed happiness with their bonuses.
“McDermott essentially matched market for average billers and beat market for above average billers,” said one source. “They also combined year-end and spring bonuses, and are paying out on March 16.”
Bonuses at McDermott are individualized, so there’s no bonus table to post. As you may recall, last year MWE announced its move to a non-lockstep compensation system with three levels, each with a different base salary: Level 1 at $145,000, Level 2 at $175,000, and Level 3 at $200,000.
At the time the new merit-based system was announced, some worried that it might just be a sneaky way for reducing overall compensation. But based on what we’ve been hearing, McDermott associates under this system are doing as well as or better than their counterparts on the Cravath compensation scale.
What’s going on with clerkship bonuses? The last time we really checked was over a year ago. We might do a follow-up; if you have tips — not questions or requests for advice, but hard information about clerkship bonus amounts — please email us (subject line: “Clerkship Bonuses”).
In our last look at the subject, in February 2010, the going rate seemed to be $50,000. You can look back at our prior post for the names of at least 11 firms paying $50K clerkship bonuses. (If any of that info needs to be updated, in either direction, please let us know.)
We can confirm that at least one firm is paying a clerkship bonus in excess of $50,000: BuckleySandler, a young, highly-regarded firm that focuses on banking and financial-services law. We’ve written quite a bit about the firm before; it started with a bang, when Skadden partners Andrew Sandler and Benjamin Klubes left the megafirm to set up their own shop.
Let’s learn a little more about BuckleySandler, and check out the memo announcing the $60K clerkship bonus (along with other compensation-related information)….
A day without bonus news is a day without sunshine. We wouldn’t let this Monday pass without giving you some new compensation information to wrap your heads around.
Today’s bonus news comes from the prominent intellectual-property firm of Fish & Richardson. Fish’s approach to associate compensation is closely watched by other IP shops, so we expect this announcement to be of interest to many of you.
IP lawyers like numbers, right? So let’s look at the FR memo, which includes lots of ‘em — tables for bonuses, in 2010 and 2009 (for comparison purposes), and also a table of 2011 base salaries….
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When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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