Perks / Fringe Benefits

Here in the great state of New York, marriage equality is the order of the day — as it is in five other states, plus D.C.. But due to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal tax code does not recognize same-sex unions. As a result, as explained by the law firm of McCarter & English, “the Internal Revenue Code treats the value of employer-provided healthcare benefits for a civil union or domestic partner as ‘imputed income’ to the employee. This means that employees who elect domestic partner benefits must pay income tax on the value of those benefits, which is in direct contrast to employees with different-sex spouses.”

To address this inequality, a number of law firms — including McCarter & English, as of this June — have adopted what we here at Above the Law have dubbed the “gay gross-up.” This benefit consists of “a bump in income such that, post-tax, the employees are in the same position as similarly situated employees electing healthcare benefits for their opposite-sex spouses.”

In addition to McCarter, a number of prominent law firms have adopted this policy since our last report. Let’s find out which ones….

UPDATE (8/25/11): We’ve added to the list since it was originally published. See the updated list below.

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As many of you know, here at Above the Law we have been tracking which major law firms offer a non-salary benefit that we’ve dubbed the gay gross-up. As we’ve previously explained, quoting a memo issued by Simpson Thacher, the gay gross-up is “[a] ‘gross-up’ for employees who enroll same-sex partners in the Firm’s health benefits plans to offset any federal, state and local income taxes paid on the value of the partners’ benefits which heterosexual spouses are not subject to.”

Today we are pleased to report that two top firms have joined the club. Kudos to Debevoise & Plimpton and Shearman & Sterling for standing on the side of equality. You can read their announcement memos, issued earlier this month, after the jump.

We have added these firms to our list. By the way, for those firms that would rather appear on a list maintained by the New York Times than one maintained by Above the Law, you should note that the NYT is also monitoring which workplaces provide this perk. The NYT list includes employers of many different types, not just law firms, and features some of the nation’s most innovative companies, such as Google and Facebook and Apple.

With the addition of Debevoise and Shearman, which leading law firms provide this benefit? Let’s take a look….

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Every so often a lawyer with a small firm will ask me what to do about providing employees with paid sick days. The practice is much more common in large firms, but many lawyers have come to expect it as a perk no matter how big their firms are. (To be clear, I’m talking about paid-time-off policies, not legally required unpaid leave like the Family and Medical Leave Act.) Many larger firms allow their employees to accumulate and bank their leave, saving it up for a rainy day, as it were. Some have the days expire after a certain time, while others allow the days to survive until the end of an employee’s tenure.

That’s fine at large, wealthy firms, who can well afford to pay people not to work. But what about small firms, where a person’s absence is more likely to have an impact? How many days of paid sick leave should a small law firm’s policy permit?

My answer might surprise you. Not ten days a year. Not five. Not even three.

Zero. Small law firms shouldn’t have a policy of any days of paid sick leave a year.

But before you set your comment phasers to “kill,” give me a chance to explain.…

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The case for same-sex marriage should rest less upon dollars and cents and more upon fundamental principles of fairness (as recently argued by Professor Jaye Cee Whitehead in a New York Times op-ed piece). But it’s certainly the case that money matters should not be overlooked when it comes to marriage equality.

We’ve previously discussed a non-salary benefit that we’ve nicknamed the gay gross-up. Here’s one concise definition: “A ‘gross-up’ for employees who enroll same-sex partners in the Firm’s health benefits plans to offset any federal, state and local income taxes paid on the value of the partners’ benefits which heterosexual spouses are not subject to.” (Currently gay couples in which partners receive employer-provided health benefits are taxed on the value of those benefits, due to the fact that, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal law — including federal tax law — doesn’t recognize same-sex unions.)

The gross-up is not a perk that affects a huge number of employees, to be sure. But having it sends an important message about a firm’s commitment to equality and inclusion.

Where did we obtain that handy definition of the gross-up? From the benefits page of a top law firm that recently started offering this benefit. It’s one of two elite law firms that recently boarded the gay gross-up bandwagon….

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There’s a very interesting debate coming out of Washington State: Should universities do more to provide child care for students with children? On Monday, parents across the University of Washington system brought their kids to class to protest the lack of child care options in the area.

It’s an important question. According to the Seattle Times, child care is the third-greatest barrier to completing a college degree.

It’s a problem for law students too. The University of Washington School of Law has been taking an aggressive approach to finding family-friendly options for its students.

But is this something that law schools should be concerning themselves with? It’s time to fire up the old ATL Debate Machine….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

I am getting tired of hearing about all these large law firms and their unnecessary spring bonuses. This weekend I went on a trip with friends who all work in Biglaw, and the topic came up (and, in turn, everyone shared how he or she was going to spend that extra money).

One of my friends is planning on going on vacation to South America (sometime in 2019, when he has the time). Another told us that she is going to get “the Bentley of couches,” for the guest room in her giant condo. I did not have a similar Biglaw big-money story to share, so I instead shared my ideas for the top ten free activities I had planned for the spring. (In case you’re wondering, they are: 1. Breathe Air. 2. Walk. 3. Eat Free Samples At Whole Foods.)

I had to admit that I was a little jealous of my friends and their surprise bonuses. But then I heard a story that touched me right where it counts — in the wallet. I have learned that some small firms give their employees big perks….

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Health care is a hot topic these days, especially in the wake of yet another federal judge striking down Obamacare.

So let’s talk about health care, shall we?

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What in the hell is this used for?

When does the gift of a hot gadget feel like an insult? Apparently when you are an associate at Holland & Knight. This bonus season, the firm gave all of its associates free iPads. And…

Well, associates are still waiting to see if there will be anything other than iPads as a bonus present from the firm.

Can somebody explain to me how the iPad turned into a giant pacifier for white-collar employees? Has any kind of consumer protection agency checked to make sure “placation” is an approved use for the product? I mean, I don’t have an iPad, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. But you can’t have sex with it, right? It doesn’t like cure AIDS or grow into a beanstalk or anything?

Maybe the iPad is the most wonderful gadget since the brassiere (the O.G. of gadgets), but at least some of the associates at Holland & Knight were hoping for something a little bit more. And the staff at Holland & Knight, well, I suppose they’re just happy they could help out with getting the associates the iPads…

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Here’s some very belated bonus news. Earlier this month, the New York office of Linklaters announced bonuses that matched the Cravath scale.

As usual at Linklaters, there was no hours requirement. The news was communicated via individual memo.

A Cravath match, especially in a bonus season when some firms are paying significantly more, kinda sucks isn’t that exciting. A Cravath bonus won’t get a Linklaters associate a pad as palatial as that of Linklaters partner Michael Bassett. Heck, $35K — the top of the Cravath scale — probably won’t even cover the cost of Bassett’s wallpaper.

But we’ll point out two nice things about Linklaters, both relating to tax issues….

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(But at least it has the gay gross-up.)”

Here’s some nice news to counteract all the unhappiness over associate bonuses (not Cahill’s, which were great, but Cravath’s and all the Cravath followers).

There’s no word yet, at least as far as we know, on bonuses at Winston & Strawn. But for incoming associates who just passed the bar, Winston is congratulating them with bottles of champagne.

You’re lawyers; you suffer from status anxiety. So right now you’re all wondering: What brand of champagne?

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