Bonuses

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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It’s hard to understand why some firms choose secrecy over transparency when it comes to associate bonuses. I understand not wanting to tell Above the Law about them. We often find out eventually, but if you want to make us jump through a couple of extra hoops, that’s fine. (To help us jump through the hoops, please email us about your firm’s news.)

But even if you don’t want ATL to know about your firm’s bonuses, I don’t see how fear of a blog is justification for keeping information from your own people about how they are compensated. If you are transparent about how bonuses are calculated and awarded, most of the people will accept that they knew what was expected of them and either met those expectations or fell short. Sure, there will be some disgruntled people, but at least everybody gets to know why they are being paid what they are being paid.

But if you roll out there with secret formulas and unspecified hours requirements, nearly everybody feels disgruntled because they have no idea why they received (or didn’t receive) whatever they got. It’s like, if a girl tells you she won’t put out until after at least four dates, you know what you’re up against. But if she says nothing and you find yourself standing outside her apartment after a successful third date and she’s not inviting you up for “coffee,” you’re super-pissed (and hoping that the slutty chick who was checking you out earlier is still at the bar and relatively disease-free).

And that’s where Arnold & Porter associates find themselves when it comes to their bonuses. Standing outside of some chick’s apartment, wondering what the hell just happened.

Oh A&P announced its bonuses. But the eligibility for these bonuses is really anyone’s guess…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Bonus Watch: Arnold & Porter Will Try Transparency Next Year, This Year Sticks With Cloak and Dagger Routine”

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s new column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

I really don’t care much about compensation.

Let the abuse begin.

If you hate your job, then no one can pay you enough to make going to work every day worthwhile. And if you love your job, you won’t be sitting around fretting about your pay. I understand that this is America and all that, but within very broad limits, you’re nuts to accept one job over another because of a small difference in compensation.

(I understand that you may be trapped in a job, because of student loans, or kids in college, or the like. I understand; trapped is trapped. And I understand that I personally have been awfully lucky, because I’ve never had to worry about finding money to pay next month’s rent, so I speak from a particular point of view. Despite all that, I stand by what I said — if job A and job B are meaningfully different from each other in ways that matter to you, and you’re not trapped, you’re nuts to take one job over the other just to earn a few extra grand each year. Period.)

Naturally, since I’m not interested in the subject, you can guess the question I’ve been asked most often since Above the Law anointed me an in-house counsel guru:

How does in-house compensation work, and what questions should I ask about compensation if I’m interviewing for an in-house job?

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