It’s beginning to look a lot like last year’s Christmas at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. CWT announced yesterday that it would be matching the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale. It starts at $7,500 for the class of 2010 and tops out at $42,500 for the class of 2003 and more senior. All bonuses will be paid in early February 2012.
But what about spring bonuses? And is Cadwalader planning to show any love for the class of 2011?
We called the story “Part 1″ because we knew, at the time, that we’d be bringing you a “Part 2.” Think of Christine Raglan’s UWS penthouse as the appetizer — or maybe even just the amuse-bouche. Now it’s time for the entrée, something far more substantial.
Let’s fly across Central Park and alight in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side, where a Cravath partner recently sold his ultra-luxurious residence — for a whopping $4.6 million. Interestingly enough, the buyer is a lawyer as well, in-house counsel at a major media company.
Who are the parties to this transaction? And what does a $4.6 million apartment look like?
The Cleary scale provides for (1) prorated bonuses for class of 2011 members and (2) a top payment of $42,500 for the most-senior lawyers (class of 2003 on up). We’re calling it the “Cleary scale” because some firms that pay a stub bonus to the class of 2011 top out at $37,500 (e.g., Milbank), and some firms that go all the way up to $42,500 don’t pay stub bonuses (e.g., Sullivan & Cromwell and Simpson Thacher).
(These are some pretty fine — and minor — distinctions. As Elie just grumpily remarked to me, “Remember when setting the market involved making it rain instead of figuring out if any pee got on the toilet seat?”)
In any event, it’s nice that Paul Weiss is taking care of its people at both the top and bottom of the seniority scale. Let’s look at the memo….
Usually, firms with main offices outside of Manhattan let the New York bonus market settle down a little bit before jumping into the fray. D.C., Chicago, Boston, and even L.A. — they all tend to allow New York to sort itself out before raising the hopes and dreams of people who aren’t paying NYC prices.
Not this year.
Ropes & Gray is jumping right into the middle of the bonus battle. For first and second year associates, they’ll be following the early payouts from Cravath and S&C. But further up the scale, where CSM and S&C diverge, Ropes & Gray is… not taking a position.
Yeah, Ropes wants to do its part to lock in the low bonuses for junior people, but for more senior people it’ll do it on a case-by-case basis….
Success in Biglaw often is measured by the size of an attorney’s “book of business.” Not surprisingly, having a book of business is also the best way to ensure the success of a private practice. The bigger the book, the greater your exit options. So whether your goal is to make partner or to open your own firm, everyone knows that the key is to develop a book of business.
That is easy to say, but virtually impossible to do in a big firm setting. Many big firms handle only matters in which the amount at stake is in the millions of dollars. This means that the prospect of an associate landing such a case is slim; a client would never entrust a multi-million dollar dispute to an un-tested associate. Associates are told to attend networking events, but what is the prospect of meeting someone who just so happens to have a ten million dollar dispute laying around, and who has not yet staffed the matter, and who is willing to entrust the matter to a junior associate he just met?
Once upon a time, mentoring relationships were strong, and firms were loyal to their associates. A loyal associate could hope that the partner for whom he or she worked would encourage clients to develop a relationship with the associate and allow the associate to claim ownership of future engagements from that client. If nothing else, a loyal associate could expect to inherit clients from a retiring partner.
Alas, the traditional method of building a book of business no longer works for most associates. Firms now sometimes go so far as to actively discourage associates from forming too-strong relationships with clients, lest the associate leave and take the client with them. And even if an associate is fortunate enough to get client contact, clients are likely to develop loyalties to the partner on the matter, even if the associate is doing most of the work. Unfortunately, just because you do good work doesn’t mean that over time you will magically develop that elusive book of business.
To make matters worse, it’s often impossible to predict future business, especially for litigators. If a client hires you for a patent dispute and pays you $1 million in fees in 2011 before the case settles, does that mean you have a $1 million book of business, even if you have no reason to expect any business from that client in 2012? How can you guarantee repeat business from any client, especially in litigation? Do you need a three or five year average? Those are long time frames for associates.
With all these challenges, how can an associate ever hope to make the rain they will need if they want to open their own firm?
This is my least favorite post to write every year. The Debevoise & Plimpton bonuses were just announced. So now it’s time for me to sit back and marvel at how much money I personally left on the table when I decided to quit Debevoise what feels like a lifetime ago.
In fact, the very first time I can remember hearing about the website “Above the Law” was when a person sitting next to me in a cubicle at the New York Press said: “Jesus Elie, your old firm just paid twice as much in bonus than we’ll make this year. It’s all over this Above the Law site.”
Ah, but it’s not like that this year. This year, Debevoise is just matching the S&C bonuses that aren’t overly impressive. Bottom rail on top now, mister….
Last night, Kaye Scholer announced a match of the Cravath bonus scale from this season. And a match of the Cravath spring bonus from last season. But that has nothing to do with 2012 spring bonuses, which Sullivan & Cromwell alluded to last night. So even as Kaye Scholer associates are being “made whole” from the firm’s cheap stance on the last bonus season, it looks like they’re already starting this bonus season in the hole.
Keeping you updated about the latest bonus shenanigans is what Above the Law is here for….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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