Bonuses

Well, the bonus scale has been set. Cravath led — by copying their bonus payments from last year — and now everybody is following. I’m on record saying that these bonuses are underwhelming and disappointing.

Gone are the days where the first-year bonus represented a significant chunk of your law school debt. Sure, you can pay down some interest with your bonuses, or you can prudently save it, or maybe even invest it. But you can also blow it. I mean, it’s a “bonus,” right? In this depressed market, your bonuses look less like deferred compensation and more like “found money.” Instead of making a fiscally sound decision, using your bonuses for profligate, discretionary spending might make you feel better. (Disclosure: Elie Mystal is not a registered financial adviser and is too… stupid to follow a budget.)

Bonuses range from $10,000 for first-year associates to $60,000 for senior people. Professor Paul Caron of Tax Prof Blog tells me that associates can expect to take home about 60% percent of that, depending on where they live and how many dependents they have.

What can a young lawyer buy with that? In addition to what’s in the ATL holiday gift guide, here are 10 things…

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Happy Monday, everyone! What better way to start a new week than to bring you more bonus news?

As it turns out, Willkie Farr and Shearman & Sterling weren’t the only firms to participate in the Friday afternoon bonus dump. Two more firms broke word of their bonus intentions before the weekend, and now the question on everyone’s minds is whether they bucked the system and beat Cravath.

We’ve got the announcements from Cadwalader and Proskauer Rose for your viewing pleasure. Did either firm have the guts to top Cravath’s market rate?

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Is it our imagination, or is the 2013 bonus season unfolding at a glacial pace? Maybe because these bonuses are just the reheated bonuses from last year, they feel like they’re coming out of the fridge.

Cravath announced on Monday. Skadden announced on Tuesday. Cleary announced on Wednesday. Nobody announced on Thursday (as far as we know; if we missed your firm’s announcement, please email us or text us (646-820-8477)).

Today we got the Friday afternoon bonus news dump. We have announcements from Willkie Farr and Shearman & Sterling. What are these two firms doing?

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We’ve seen a surprising amount of drama emanate from the normally hushed halls of One Liberty Plaza in 2013. Cleary Gottlieb, one of Biglaw’s best firms, has been the site of contention and controversy regarding irate ex-staffers, support staff stealth layoffs, and a summer associate with a dark past.

Some of our Cleary readers and sources have objected to this coverage as painting a misleading picture of goings-on at CGSH. Their general view: all this drama is limited to the ranks of support staff — who have been coddled over the years, and are finally now being forced to be more productive. When it comes to the lawyers at Cleary, it’s business as usual.[1]

Is it “business as usual” with respect to associate bonuses? Cleary just announced….

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Not many firms try to trump Cravath, the traditional market leader when it comes to year-end bonuses. Most major firms are followers.

There are a few exceptions, and one of the exceptions is Skadden Arps. Back in 2008, Skadden announced bonuses before Cravath, and those Skadden bonuses turned out to be much higher than Cravath’s. When most other firms subsequently followed Cravath instead of Skadden, my colleague Elie Mystal mocked these firms for their “Half-Skadden” bonuses.

Skadden just announced its 2013 year-end bonuses. Did it beat the Cravath bonuses, or did it join them?

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Can you name this man? He’s Obama’s Kenyan uncle. Who are we kidding, better question: Can you point to Kenya on a map?

* Alabama fan allegedly shot despicable front runners who liked the Tide and the Heat for not being distressed enough after Alabama’s loss. When reached for comment, LeBron tightened his Yankee cap and yelled Roll War Eagle Tide. [USA Today]

* A couple of Illinois lawyers got disbarred for beginning inappropriate sexual relationships. One began an affair with a teen he’d prosecuted. It’s good to see people still look up to Dan Fielding. [Legal Profession Blog]

* Obama’s Kenyan Uncle will not be deported. We need him to stay and do a job no American wants to do.. fix Healthcare.gov. [Associated Press]

* Kaplan has agreed to make a number of changes to increase access for disabled students in a settlement arising from the request of a deaf student to get a sign language interpreter. Now figuring out the bar exam will be… slightly easier. [Daily Business Review]

* White males successfully argue that they shouldn’t even have to listen to a black woman talk about race, even if she’s their professor in “communications.” [Raw Story]

* Munger Tolles brings back the former ambassador to Australia as a partner. “That’s not a cognizable claim. This is a cognizable claim.” [Law 360 (sub. req.)]

* David and Elie appeared on CNBC’s Power Lunch today to talk about bonuses that they’re not getting. Video embedded after the jump…

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In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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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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It’s Tuesday, November 26, past 5 p.m. Do you know where your bonus is?

When we surveyed our readership about 2013 law firm bonuses, 57 percent of respondents predicted that the first firm (traditionally Cravath) would announce during the week of Thanksgiving. That’s basically over. It’s theoretically possible we could get an announcement later tonight or sometime tomorrow, but it seems unlikely.

So what’s going on? Where. Are. The bonuses?

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It’s nearly that time of year, when all the grueling hours that Biglaw associates have put in will pay off in the form of fat bonuses. Or don’t pay off, with miserly bonuses, or nothing at all. Or something in between? Point being, we have no idea how the 2013 bonus season will play out. Presumably, the answer is buried somewhere deep in Allen Parker’s unknowable heart.

The signs thus far are not especially encouraging, at least for those with a vested interest. (Admittedly, for most, this is all much ado about white-shoe people problems.)

Yes, Cravath might be doing well, at least if its large partner class is any indication. But on the subject of law firm 2013 profits in general, the Citi Bank Private Law Firm Group’s report on the first half of the year concluded:

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