Bonuses

Friday afternoons are for bad news. When you have some news that you want to disappear into the ether, you announce it on Friday afternoon. It’s a favorite time for disgraced D.C. figures to resign from office in order to “spend more time with their families.”

So why did Sullivan & Cromwell, one of the world’s most prestigious and profitable law firms, decide to announce good news — namely, generous spring bonuses for its associates — late on a Friday afternoon? (Was it perhaps in response to the Latham bonus news from earlier today?)

Yes, Cravath and Skadden and Davis Polk associates, you read that right. S&C is paying out healthy springtime bonuses. They’re supplemental to the 2010 year-end bonuses that S&C announced back in December.

So how much are we talking about? And when will these amounts hit associate bank accounts?

Let’s find out….

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Last month, when the world was bemoaning the Biglaw associate bonus market after Sullivan & Cromwell’s bonuses more or less fell in line with Cravath’s bonuses, I wrote as follows: “I’m keeping my eye out for Latham. It fits with their model. In bad times, suffering to all. In good times, models and bottles…. Latham survivors might get 2010 bonuses that trounce the former market leaders like Sullivan & Cromwell.”

Well, Latham & Watkins just announced its associate bonuses. Latham is a firm that gives out individualized bonuses, but the median payments by class year seem to be higher than the bonuses given out by Cravath, Sullivan & Cromwell, and the firms that followed them.

UPDATE: The preceding sentence was written before S&C’s springtime bonuses were announced.

So what is the Latham lucre looking like?

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Last month, the Boston Globe reported on an arbitrator’s finding that Goodwin Procter overcharged a real estate client by more than $540,000. (We mentioned the Globe story here and here.)

Alas, some claim that Goodwin isn’t letting that extra gravy trickle down to its associates….

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(Yes, this is late, but better late than never. If you have bonus news or a bonus memo that we have not yet written up — run a site search or scroll through our archives to check what we’ve already covered — please email us. Thanks.)

Last month, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher announced associate bonuses. As we explained last year, GDC pays individualized bonuses, based on such factors as hours or quality of work. So here’s an open thread for anonymous comparison of Gibson bonuses.

We received a little detail about Gibson’s bonuses this year….

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In a previous post, we revealed that 73% of respondents to our survey met their minimum billable requirements last year.  Today, we find out whether associates were satisfied with receiving 2009-level bonuses for a busier 2010.

Let’s see what the survey says….

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Associates bitch when partners won’t share the wealth, but nobody says a peep when legal support staff get shafted. The very concept of staff bonuses has gotten lost in the recession shuffle, despite the fact that the support staff who remain are being stretched so thin.

Well, it looks like Vinson & Elkins remembers that staff are people too. Today multiple tipsters report that legal support staff at V&E will be receiving a bonus. Our sources didn’t know how much they’re getting, but they’ll be getting something.

UPDATE: Reports a Vinson & Elkins source, “As a matter of clarification, the staff bonus that [was just announced] by V&E is an EXTRA bonus being paid by Management. V&E staff already received their normal staff bonuses in December. Viva la V&E!!”

Compare this to Jones Day. In November, the firm broke its legendary code of silence about compensation just to say that their staff would not be getting bonuses. That’s not nice. That’s like a recovering paraplegic going through years of physical therapy to get to the point where he can give his doctor the finger.

So really Vinson does deserve quite a bit of credit here. Good job by them.

And oh yeah, the firm also told associates that they would be getting bonuses this year… and suggested that the bonuses would be better than the Cravath scale….

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Counsel bonuses: a black box.

We’ve devoted extensive coverage to associate bonuses. But what about bonuses for those lawyers who are neither associates nor partners (nor staff attoneys), referred to by most large law firms as “counsel”? How much are they getting in bonuses this time around?

Many Biglaw bonus memos contain language stating that counsel bonuses are determined separately from associate bonuses and on an individual basis. As a result, the bonus market for counsel — or “special counsel,” or “of counsel,” or “senior attorneys,” or whatever your firm might call these folks — isn’t very transparent.

Some readers have asked Above the Law to help….

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We want to hear about your firm’s bonus news, even if it’s old. If we haven’t reported on it yet, we want to know about it. (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.)

Here’s some old bonus news (literally “last year’s” news). A few weeks ago, Shearman & Sterling announced its bonuses. They essentially matched the Cravath scale, but with the caveat (also issued last year) that they are at least partly “merit-based” — i.e., adjusted up or down based on performance. The S&S bonuses are being paid out on January 14.

Some Shearman associates might be upset by the lack of upward movement on bonuses. But at least one of them probably doesn’t care that much, since he enjoyed other income in 2010.

I’ll take “Lawyers Who Have Appeared on Jeopardy” for $1000, Alex….

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(And… Jeopardy!)

Even though the holidays may be behind us, bonus news is not. Much of the big bonus news tends to come down in November and December, but announcements (and payments) continue into January, February, and beyond. So stay tuned for the latest updates.

Yesterday we posted an open thread for discussion of firms that have paid bonuses greater than the Cravath / Sullivan & Cromwell scales. We’ve received some good intelligence in response to that post, which we’ll be reporting out as we obtain sufficient corroboration. So please keep the tips and memos coming, by email or by text.

Today we have a new firm to add to the list of firms paying more than Cravath and S&C (at least to associates who made their hours): Patterson Belknap, the well-regarded, New York-based, litigation-focused firm.

So how much is Patterson paying out?

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Over the holiday break, Irell & Manella announced its associate bonuses. Multiple sources are telling us that the Irell bonuses doubled the bonuses offered by Cravath, Sullivan & Cromwell, or their followers.

That’s great news, but Irell associates are not particularly impressed. Irell doubled the small bonuses of Cravath and S&C last year, too. And since Cravath et al. paid essentially the same bonus as last year, Irell associates ended up with the same bonus as last year, notwithstanding any increase in profit the firm may have achieved in 2010 over 2009.

Still, Irell is following a proven strategy to get noticed. Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that Cravath was the most prestigious firm (according to the Vault rankings). But then Wachtell started consistently blowing Cravath away in terms of compensation, and now the Cravath’s and S&C’s of the world seem to be just playing for second place. The same thing could be happening to Irell: the firm shot up from #50 to #37 in the most recent Vault rankings, and I’d imagine that another year of paying double the market will help Irell continue its rise.

Actually, does Cravath really even constitute the “market” for top-end Biglaw associate compensation anymore? In 2008, Skadden doubled Cravath’s bonuses. In 2009, Cravath took advantage of a cratering economy to push bonuses to new lows, but there were still firms like Irell that found a way to beat the Cravath bonuses. And during the 2010 bonus season, it feels like the only firms even pretending that Cravath pays top associate compensation are the huge ones that really want to keep the associate compensation market as depressed as possible.

Let’s make a list of the firms that can see the Cravath bonuses in their rearview mirrors. We’ll get you started, and hopefully you can fill us in on anybody we’ve missed….

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