Spring Bonuses

In case you haven’t heard (and you probably haven’t), today is apparently International Be Kind to Lawyers Day. So what are people supposed to do on this high holy day for lawyers? Scream “I’m ga-ga over my attorney!” out their windows? Work the phrase “I object!” into everyday conversations (as suggested by the creator of this event)?

Well, we’ve got an idea that we think our audience will really appreciate. Because the best way to be kind to lawyers in Biglaw is to show them the money. On that note, where are the spring bonuses?

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Today brings additional intelligence about spring bonuses at Sullivan & Cromwell (on the heels of yesterday’s report). This information has broad relevance within Biglaw because it’s clear that spring bonuses won’t happen on a large scale unless S&C moves. Four managing partners have already made clear to Am Law Daily that they won’t pay out unless they’re forced to do so. Any such forcing would presumably be done by S&C, which was the first mover behind last year’s spring bonus trend.

From the perspective of associates, there’s good news coming out of S&C, and there’s bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

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H. Rodgin Cohen

Yesterday I got to chat with H. Rodgin Cohen, one of the nation’s leading corporate lawyers. Cohen has been accurately described by the New York Times as “the dean of Wall Street lawyers” as well as the “trauma surgeon of Wall Street” (for his heroic work rescuing the nation’s financial system during the 2008 financial crisis).

When he’s not working on bank mega-mergers, Cohen plays a major role in running the venerable firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he has spent his entire legal career (except for two years as an Army lawyer). He served as chairman of the firm from 2000 until 2010, when he passed his crown to Joseph Shenker, but Cohen continues to serve in the role of “senior chairman.”

So of course I asked Rodge Cohen about a very hot topic: spring bonuses. What did he have to say?

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* Here’s a reason why Proskauer Rose and Chadbourne & Parke might skip out on spring bonuses this year: millions of dollars worth of blowback from Allen Stanford’s Ponzi scheme. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* And speaking of spring bonuses, a lot of people noticed that Sullivan & Cromwell seems to have misled associates. “Just because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t.” Yeah, right. [Am Law Daily]

* Next up in the war on women: a senator from Idaho thinks that women are such strumpets that they might be lying their way into abortions by claiming rape. Because that’s not incredibly insensitive. [Washington Post]

* Apparently George Zimmerman, the man accused of fatally shooting a boy armed with a pack of Skittles, wanted to become a police officer. Looks like it’s time to kiss that dream goodbye. [Los Angeles Times]

* Give me your lunch money, kid! Teachers aren’t supposed to be bullying students, but that’s what one Baltimore mother is alleging in a $200K lawsuit against the city’s school board. [New York Daily News]

Do you remember the first time you said “but you promised” to somebody who was probably older than you and in the process of not giving you what they said they’d give you? It’s a pathetic feeling: you’ve been counting on something, you see it being pulled away from you, and all you can do is throw yourself upon the mercy of another person’s sense of fair play.

That hopeless feeling is what Sullivan & Cromwell lawyers are feeling as a globally-warmed winter gives way to spring. S&C promised they’d be paying spring bonuses. But here we are, in the spring, and the firm is still silent.

Did they think everybody would forget? Or do they just think that breaking their word is no big deal?

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When it comes to year-end bonuses, Cravath traditionally leads, and everyone else follows. But when it comes to spring bonuses, which we’ve all been eagerly anticipating, the usual first mover is Sullivan & Cromwell.

So why are we now hearing word of spring bonuses over at 825 Eighth Avenue? What the heck is going on?

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The absence of spring bonuses makes cute animals sad.

Today is March 1. By this time last year, about a dozen firms had announced spring bonuses, as you can see from our prior coverage.

This year? Crickets.

Perhaps there’s no cause for worry right now. Things are going just as my colleague Elie Mystal predicted: “You’re going to get your money. My prediction: an extra $10,000 to $20,000 depending on class year, starting with third-year associates. It might be announced really late, end of February or early March, once firms realize they need to keep their talented midlevels.”

I can’t say I share Elie’s optimism….

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Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21st. Today is February 3rd. It might be time to panic.

The conceit of this entire bonus season has been that the ridiculously low bonuses bar set by Cravath, Swaine & Moore was just an opening figure. People really didn’t expect that Cravath would halve bonuses. I mean, it’s CSM. They can count. Their profits went up. Why would they pay out 50% less than last year?

Well, I guess the answer “because they can” is going to have to be enough for Biglaw associates everywhere….

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Well, spring bonuses are officially late. Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21. Here we are on January 23rd, and we’re still waiting.

It’s too early to worry. Cravath essentially check-raised S&C with spring bonuses last year. There’s a good chance S&C is just trying to figure out how to avoid having that happen again.

I still think spring bonuses will be coming. There are just too many firms paying out more than Cravath in terms of bonus. Cravath partners might be getting high fives from partners around Biglaw for helping to keep bonuses low. But there are so many firms blowing past Cravath (and Cravath followers) that, eventually, the very smart people Cravath hires will wake up and realize they can make more money elsewhere.

The latest firm to make Cravath bonuses look small is Latham & Watkins. Their median bonus is especially more generous than CSM’s as people become midlevel or senior associates….

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At the start of this new year, what is the outlook like for legal employment? There’s certainly a fair amount of bad news out there, particularly for recent law school graduates.

But what about for denizens of Biglaw, the lawyers fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to work at the nation’s largest law firms? What does 2012 hold for them?

Earlier this month, my colleague Elie made some predictions for the legal profession. I will follow in his footsteps and venture some prophecies of my own for the year….

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