Compensation

Could we be looking at that rara avis, a genuinely suspenseful and surprising Biglaw bonus season?

We haven’t had one for a while. In the past few years, things have followed the usual pattern: the market leader, Cravath, announces bonuses, and everyone else follows.

The last truly interesting bonus season took place in 2008. That year, instead of waiting for Cravath, Skadden moved first and offered generous bonuses (regular year-end bonuses at 2007 levels, just no “special” or supplemental bonuses). The following day, Cravath announced bonuses that were essentially half of Skadden’s. This led my colleague, Elie Mystal, to develop and deploy the term “Half-Skadden” to refer to the bonuses offered by Cravath and its (many grateful) followers.

But this year raises an interesting question: Could Cravath get… Cravathed? Could this be the year of “Half-Cravath” bonuses?

UPDATE (11:00 AM): Or maybe not. Note the update at the end of this post about one leading firm that just matched Cravath.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Bonus Watch: Will Other Firms Refuse to Follow Cravath? (And Could That Be a Good Thing?)”

Lat here. Earlier this month, I wondered: could the bumper crop of new partners at Cravath bode well for bonuses? Although firms like Cravath generally make partnership decisions with a focus on the longer term, as opposed to based on short-term financial performance, a class of five partners is one of the largest Cravath has had in years. It certainly seems to reflect a good degree of confidence about the firm’s future.

Now we have our answer as to the size of Cravath bonuses. The firm just announced its year-end bonuses for 2012, and they’re not simply a cut-and-paste of last year’s numbers. This year’s bonuses are more generous than last year’s, which is great news (at least for associates trying to pay off their law school loans; partners might be less enthused).

Sit up and take notes, since the Cravath bonus scale sets the bar for most other major law firms….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Breaking: Cravath Announces Year-End Bonuses; Let the 2012 Bonus Season Begin!”

Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the second of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. Read the first part here.

HOW FIRMS EVALUATE CANDIDATES (CONTINUED)

Client Diversification and Conflicts: To diversify risk, firms prefer candidates who have spread their business among a number of clients, rather than concentrating it in just one or two large ones. While they generally like high-profile clients who can raise their profitability and status, the more dominant a company, the more likely it is to create conflicts with others in that industry, whether or not a firm has an immediate conflict; further, such high-profile clients often expect that firms will voluntarily forgo representing even potential competitors (sometimes referred to as the “Microsoft conundrum”). Thus, a candidate with such a client has no chance at any firm that currently represents a competitor.

Bill had worked with a marquee high-tech client over the last decade, which constituted about three-quarters of his portable business. The client had followed Bill through several moves, but its conflicts policies necessitated the moves. So while the heft of the marquee client and its loyalty to Bill mitigated the diversification issue, a number of firms would likely shy away from hiring him because of definite or potential conflicts with his showcase client….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Partners in Practice: Anatomy of a Lateral Move (Part II)”

Last week I discussed the associate bonus process from your typical partner’s perspective. I want to talk a bit more about ways firms can take advantage of the glut of prospective associates out there, while increasing the odds of finding those rare jewels who will make partner — with each associate making less, but getting a better lifestyle (and a shot at a Biglaw career) in the bargain.

Some caveats. First, the ideas below are not intended for the Simpsons — this Simpson, not those Simpsons — of the world. They will continue to attract the very best, and should continue their current structure. Why? Because the Cravath model that the elite firms instituted makes for great partners and strong law firms. The problem is that almost every Biglaw firm adopted the Cravath model, and not all of them should have. Most firms do not have the institutional client base of the elite firms, and therefore don’t need the tremendous fixed costs and inflexibility with respect to associates that the Cravath model brings. As firms expand, contract, or just struggle to stay afloat post-Biglaw Breakdown, it seems like a great time to try some new approaches to talent structures and compensation. There is nothing wrong with some experimentation, as long as the protocols are transparent, and management is prepared to cut bait quickly if things are not working out.

Now over the years we have seen firms experiment with their junior associate hiring models. Most of these programs involved trying to turn junior associates into some form of quasi-apprentices. None seem to have taken root. And in my mind there is no sense in implementing a drastic, global overhaul of your associate model, before trying some more limited changes on the practice group level.

Here is what I would try….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Buying In: More Associates… Making Less”

Hello associates. It is almost bonus season. For most of you, your main hopes this time of year are (1) to get a bonus and (2) no surprises. What kind of surprises are you looking to avoid? Unwelcome ones. Like your firm going from lockstep associate compensation to a “merit-based” system. Or the firm implementing a different bonus hours target at the last minute. That two-week-long summer trip to Barcelona and Ibiza? The one that cost you about a hundred billable hours? Congratulations. That one hundred hours is now costing you twenty grand in bonus money. Thanks for playing the Biglaw associate game.

So Lat asked me to give some insight into what partners think about associate bonuses. From what I can tell, the overwhelmingly majority of partners don’t think at all about associate bonuses. The reality is that nearly all Biglaw decisions are made by a very small group of partners (increasingly with the help of professional non-lawyer administrators). The ones on the Executive Committee. With an assist (on this issue) by the Associate or Compensation Committees.

Here is how it happens….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Buying In: New York to 50!”

Now is the time on ATL when we dance — around the subject of money. With just two months left in the year, law firms are focused on collections, associates are focused on bonuses, and partners are focused on profits. Even though money is not the be-all and end-all of law practice, as we have emphasized in these pages before, it’s a topic that people follow — and a topic that we will therefore be covering closely in what remains of 2012.

Earlier this week, the American Lawyer magazine touched upon a topic that doesn’t get as much attention as it should in the world of Biglaw: compensation for non-equity partners. Let’s take a look at Am Law’s findings….

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I like talking about partner compensation so much, I wrote a three-part series on the topic. It was nice to hear from Jeffrey Lowe, the Global Practice Leader of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Law Firm Practice Group and the brains behind the MLA partner compensation survey, who graciously expressed both his enjoyment of my treatment regarding the survey results and an invitation to contact him directly with follow-up questions.

In response, I proposed a written email interview, which you can read below. Thanks again to Jeffrey for his yeoman’s work on the survey, and his willingness to offer some additional commentary on the always scintillating subject of partner pay….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Buying In: An Interview on Partner Compensation with Jeffrey Lowe”

‘Why are we all still at these firms?’

For the past seven years, the National Association of Women Lawyers has tracked women’s progress at the 200 largest firms in the nation by comparing their careers and compensation with similarly situated men. And for the past seven years, reading NAWL’s report has been like drinking a fifth of gin, and then watching Requiem For A Dream: it’s really freaking depressing.

For every two steps forward the legal industry takes, female attorneys seem to move two steps back. Despite Biglaw firms’ purported support for gender equity, women just aren’t achieving the same success as their male peers, either economically or in terms of attaining leadership roles. From associates to partners, women are always left holding the bag.

With that backdrop, let’s check out the excruciatingly discouraging news for women in Biglaw….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Women of Biglaw Are Still Trapped In Staff Attorney Binders”

As we recently mentioned, Biglaw is not all about the benjamins. There is so much more to the practice of law than the monetary rewards. Focus on doing the best work you can for your clients and your colleagues, and the money will take care of itself (well, at least most of the time).

Of course, it’s much easier to take a relaxed attitude towards money if you have a good amount of it. It’s easy for well-paid partners to tell young associates not to worry about money, when the partners enjoy seven-figure paychecks while the associates struggle under six-figure student loans.

If you’re a young lawyer dealing with educational debt, you know that every extra dollar counts. Every dollar earned means you’re one buck closer to liberation from loans.

Which leads us to today’s question: which law firms pay the largest starting salaries to their associates?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The $160K-Plus Club: Which Law Firms Pay the Biggest Starting Salaries?”

A wise man once said, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” Lawyers, allegedly an unhappy lot, are asked if they are happy all the time. Vault asks, Am Law asks, and in a roundabout way, so do we.

To date, we’ve received nearly 8,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey. Among other things, our survey poses this question to law firm lawyers: “If you had the chance to do it all over again, would choose to work for your firm?”

Unsurprisingly, those who answer “yes” tend to highly rate their firms in such areas as compensation, culture, and training. For those that wish they could take a Mulligan when it comes to their choice of employer, the inverse is true. Here is a comparison of ratings scores (on a scale of 1-10) for the various aspects of law firm life, broken out by responses to the “Mulligan” question:

SUBJECT ”Yes” ”No”
Compensation 7.81 5.35
Hours 7.38 4.81
Firm Morale 7.7 3.53
Training 7.45 4.32
Culture and Colleagues 8.56 4.56

Hardly counterintuitive stuff, we know, but it allows us to use the “Mulligan” response as a proxy for overall happiness/satisfaction, as it’s so broadly predictive of the nature of the individual’s assessment of his firm.

Back in April, we shared our survey findings showing that Davis Polk was the top firm when it came to morale (to date, this holds true.) Today, we look at whether there are notable differences regarding satisfaction based on practice area. If we slice our survey data by practice, we find that there certainly are. So after the jump, let’s look at how practice groups stack up against one another in terms of the happiness of its practitioners….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “And Biglaw’s Happiest Campers Are…”

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