Merit Based Compensation

The heady days of the “mutual assured destruction” approach to associate compensation by Biglaw firms are behind us. But some associates would still like to see how they are doing in comparison to their colleagues at other firms. A tipster recently wrote us:

Can you do a post requesting commenters to post grade schedules a la greedyassociates back in the day showing salary per year. This would make comparisons easier. I’ll start:

Sheppard Mullin
1st year 145K
2nd 160
3rd 170
4th 185
5th 210
6th 225
then it gets vague with a range from 240-265K.

Some of this information is available in the firm profiles on the Above the Law Career Center. But as good greedy Sheppard-ite must know, comparing salaries is much more complicated these days due to some firms instituting merit-based compensation models.

WilmerHale is one of those firms. Yesterday, Wilmer released its projected salary structure for 2011. We’ll see if it’s a merit-based market leader…

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This morning, the Lawyer reported that Clifford Chance was changing the requirements for associate bonuses in London:

Clifford Chance is set for a radical overhaul of its associate bonus system, with the maximum award now open only to senior associates and payments no longer based primarily on hours worked….

A spokesperson for ­Clifford Chance said: “While billable and investment hours continue to be ­important, the bonus will not be directly linked to achieving a target number of hours. We’ll weigh a ­number of factors to ensure a balanced and flexible bonus scheme.”

Dear Lord, it looks like the American epidemic of moving towards merit-based compensation just hopped a transatlantic flight.

But don’t worry Clifford Chance New Yorkers, your bonus requirements will not be affected by the changes in London…

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We have good news for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associates. Salary information is in and most people are getting raises. True-up raises at that. The class of 2008 pulled the short straw, but everybody else seems relatively happy. A tipster reports:

Please post that yesterday MLB essentially unfroze salaries (most ’08 grades only went up to 165 though) but otherwise made everyone whole, retroactive January 1, 2010.

The double-bump raise for veteran associates comes a couple of months after MLB announced big time raises for a select few associates — while most of the firm’s associates were left to wait and wonder. In January, we reported this message from Morgan Lewis Chairman, Francis M. Milone:

After considering all of these factors, we awarded base salary increases of up to $25,000 and incentive bonuses of up to $35,000 to our highest performing associates. As I advised in my November video presentation, we did not reduce associate base salaries.

According to the firm, the decision to give true-up raises to mostly everybody is in keeping with MLB’s new merit-based strategy …

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Dickstein Shaprio still basically relevant logo.JPGAdd Dickstein Shapiro to the list of firms that have decided to do away with lockstep associate compensation. As of January 22, Dickstein will adopt a new merit-based compensation system. Like many firms that have abandoned lockstep, Dickstein will be using a three-tiered system, similar to Orrick’s compensation structure.

Starting salary for new Dickstein associates will be $145,000. Or maybe it will be $160,000. Honestly, I can’t tell you with certainty what new associates will be making.

It’s not my fault. I read the original memo and everything. I talked to friends and sources and a spokesperson for the firm. I prayed on it. I just can’t seem to pin down one solid number for first-year associate salaries.

After the jump, why don’t you guys take a look at the memo? Maybe you’ll have more success divining its meaning than I did.

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