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….
The venerable firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore has received a fair amount of criticism for its allegedly subpar bonuses. I’ve previously defended their payouts — in times of economic uncertainty, is paying modest bonuses to avoid later layoffs such a bad idea? — but my view has been poorly received. (For commentary castigating firms for their cheapness, please turn to my colleague, Elie Mystal.)
Partners at Cravath, where profits per partner exceeded $3 million in 2010, are definitely in the top 1 percent. But it seems that even non-partners are doing quite nicely for themselves, despite all the bonus bellyaching.
Check out the million-dollar penthouse — yay real estate porn! — of one of Cravath’s corporate lawyers. And she’s not even a partner….
UPDATE (12/12/11): We’ve gotten our hands on the floorplan, which we’ve added to the slideshow, and we’ve added additional comments about what a “practice area attorney” does at Cravath.
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.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
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For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
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