Scott Barshay

Last week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged two former stockbrokers, Thomas Conradt and David Weishaus, with insider trading. There is a legal angle here (aside from the criminal charges and the civil case being brought by the SEC): Conradt is a lawyer, a member of the Maryland and Colorado bars, and Weishaus graduated from the University of Baltimore School of Law a year after Conradt.

To be honest, though, we’re not intensely interested in Conradt and Weishaus. Their alleged misdeeds occurred while they were working in finance, not law; the contours of Conradt’s legal career are somewhat unclear; and as for Weishaus, it’s not clear that he ever passed the bar or practiced as a lawyer.

As regular readers of Above the Law know, we have a weakness for prestige around these parts. So we’re far more interested in the former Cravath associate who, according to law enforceent allegations, made their misdeeds possible….

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It took a little longer than most of you expected, but Cravath, Swaine & Moore just announced its 2011 associate bonuses (not long after announcing its new partners). Barring something very unforeseen, these bonuses are what many Biglaw firms, in New York and across the land, will pay out this year to their people. Historically Cravath has set the market with respect to year-end associate bonuses at major law firms.

The Cravath bonuses are what you might expect. They are in line with recent years, nothing crazy high or ridiculously low. Both Occupy Wall Street types and law firm associates can put away the pitchforks.

Let’s take a look at the official memorandum, and engage in some analysis….

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Year-end bonuses have been announced at the market-leading firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. And they are even lower than last year’s Cravath bonuses.

But look, this is 2009. Welcome to the Great Recession. Your true bonus is: you get to keep your job. That shouldn’t be taken for granted, even at Cravath.

Anyway, here’s the Cravath bonus scale for 2009 (via the WSJ Law Blog):

Class of 2008 — $7,500
Class of 2007 — $10,000
Class of 2006 — $15,000
Class of 2005 — $20,000
Class of 2004 — $25,000
Class of 2003 — $30,000
Class of 2002 — $30,000

Cravath’s bonus announcement is always important because the market tends to follow Cravath — as it did last year. Skadden’s 2008 bonuses, at roughly twice Cravath’s levels, were ignored.

Could this year be different? Are the Cravath bonus levels low enough such that a firm of similar or even lower prestige will try to better CSM? Or will other Biglaw shops simply avail themselves of the political cover provided by Cravath — which is arguably what happened last year, when Skadden’s generous bonuses went unmatched (excluding Wachtell)?

So, readers, what do you think? Read the FULL MEMO, take a READER POLL, and COMMENT — after the jump.

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