Springtime Bonus Watch 2011

Over the past few weeks, as springtime bonus news trickled in, we heard from a few associates at Bingham McCutchen. The exact wording varied, but their messages all sounded the same theme: Shouldn’t one of the best places to work offer one of the best pay packages? Or at least a pay package consistent with Biglaw market rates?

One reader had this suggestion: “Can you guys keep a running list of firms that paid spring bonuses and firms that haven’t? Preferably alphabetical, so Bingham is near the top of the no-pay list.”

Well, happily, no such shame sanctions will be necessary. Bingham has jumped into the spring bonus pool. Let’s see what they’re offering….

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Let’s all take a deep breath. Associate bonus season, which usually wraps up sometime in January, looks like it’s been extended well into April. This is just more proof that Biglaw firms don’t actually collude. No rational business person would want to be making decisions in April 2011 about how much to pay employees for 2010 performance.

For those trying to keep score, there seem to be the following categories of firms (roughly using a letter-grade system):

A – Firms that are paying Cravath-level spring bonuses in all offices. (Example: Cravath.) [FN1]
B – Firms that are paying Sullivan & Cromwell-level spring bonuses in all offices. (Example: S&C.)
C – Firms that are paying spring bonuses in New York but not elsewhere, like California or D.C.. (Example: Read more below.)
D – Firms that are not paying spring bonuses because their year-end bonuses beat the Cravath year-end bonuses, and they’re hoping their associates can’t add. (Example: CHECK YOU QUINN EMANUEL.)
F – Firms that are not paying spring bonuses and invite disgruntled associates to S some D if they don’t like it. (Example: Jones “We can still hear all the poors who live inside your black box” Day.)

Right now, we want to focus on Group C. Group B gets a pass because they started the spring bonus phenomenon and goddamnit we’re going to respect that. Partners at firms in Groups D & F will have to examine their own motives for why they want their associates to secretly hate them.

But Group C is weird. Why create inter-office jealousy and rage when most top firms are paying spring bonuses in all of their offices? Why look that desperate to save a little bit of money?

And you can’t spell “Weird Cost-Cutting” without White & Case

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Wow, it’s like White & Case’s attempt to glom on to the spring bonus trend just ticked off these other firms. First Sidley and now Morrison & Foerster have come out with real spring bonus announcements, detailing the amount of money associates can expect to get paid.

We’re running off to the We Know What You Should Do This Summer filming, so we can’t give you the full MoFo treatment. But it’s not that shocking that since O’Melveny, Latham and Gibson went with spring bonuses, MoFo kind of had to step up.

Congrats, MoFos. As one tipster put it, “Tell those bitches at GDC that Mofo makes it rain in Cali… Twenty grand, man. Plus, they gave Dude a beeper.”

Read the full memo below.

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Well, Sidley Austin turned that around more quickly than I thought. Last night I pointed out that any further delay from Sidley Austin regarding spring bonuses would just be causing pain and anguish for Sidley associates for no reason. The firm was going to have to match anyway, so why drag it out?

Well, today Sidley matched the Cravath scale for spring bonuses. Yeah, unlike White & Case, Sidley told people how much they’d be getting (subject to an hours requirement). The money will be paid on April 29.

Sidley Austin associates we’ve spoken to are satisfied. One tipster reports: “Sidley spit the bit on this like Kansas in the tournament. But at least we’re not getting bounced out of the competition entirely.”

Wow, I guess like the VCU Rams, Sidley associates are just happy to be here….

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Two months ago, when spring bonuses were new and fresh and exciting, we reported on spring bonus deliberations at Cadwalader (which eventually matched the market). At the time, I wrote: “If Cadwalader jumps into the spring bonus pool, we’re going to have to start asking questions about Paul Weiss, Willkie Farr, White & Case (don’t laugh), and other well-known New York City firms.”

Well, I’m not here to say “I told you so.” I’m here to say “I was wrong.” It turns out that you are most certainly allowed to laugh. Because White & Case wants to jump into the spring bonus pool without actually telling people if it is matching the spring bonus market. The White & Case “spring bonus” could be a goddamn unlimited MetroCard for all we know. Do the managers at White & Case think they can appear to be paying market compensation without actually paying market compensation?

That’s funny….

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On Friday we noted that Gibson Dunn associates can read. Today it looks like management at Gibson Dunn finally acknowledged the writing on the wall. After a year of record-setting profits, Gibson Dunn finally decided to match the spring bonus market. The firm will be paying Cravath-level spring bonuses to eligible associates, on April 29.

Welcome to the club, Gibson Dunn. Just think, Sidley Austin, this is going to be you in a couple of weeks, when you finally realize that the cost of being viewed as a cheap firm that doesn’t pay market compensation to its associates far outweighs whatever profits you’re hoarding by hanging on to the extra money it would cost to award spring bonuses.

Obviously, our Gibson tipsters feel vindicated, now that GDC finally matched the market…

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Every day that major law firms do not announce spring bonuses makes them look like below-market, “non-peer” institutions. It has become very clear that firms claiming to pay market compensation need to be providing spring bonuses.

The latest firm to yield to market realities is Hogan Lovells. The relatively new Ho-Love, formed by the merger of Hogan & Hartson and Lovells, showed love to its hos on Friday. The firm matched the Cravath scale for spring bonuses.

You can read the full memo below. But you should also listen to how surprised and happy Ho-Love associates are about the bonuses. Hogan associates are like bizzaro Sidley associates….

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Well, Gibson Dunn, it’s come to this. You’ve made your associates so desperate and confused that they don’t know where the sun even rises anymore.

They want a spring bonus. They’ve read about spring bonuses at Latham and O’Melveny and think that they should be making as much as their colleagues at peer firms. Gibson Dunn may not like it, but their associates can read. They can read not just about the bonuses at peer firms, they can also read about Gibson Dunn’s record-setting profits for 2010.

And you know how it goes: “Record setting profits with below market bonuses makes Jack a dull boy.”

Well, now news is trickling out that Gibson will finally be getting into the spring bonus market. Except even if that’s true, it could be that GDC associates in California are left out in the cold. Some of our tipsters report that only New York associates will get a spring bonus.

I’ll pause so LAPD can go put on their riot gear…

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In its recent obituary for Warren Christopher, former U.S. Secretary of State and former senior partner at O’Melveny & Myers, the New York Times referred to O’Melveny as “the most traditional and prestigious of Los Angeles law firms.”

Well, if you want to be one of the “most prestigious” Los Angeles law firms — or national or global law firms, to the extent that O’Melveny has outgrown L.A. — then you need to pay your people appropriately. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a shock to learn that OMM has announced spring bonuses.

We received confirmation and details of the O’Melveny spring bonuses from multiple sources. Amusingly enough, about half of our sources on this story are anxious associates at Gibson Dunn….

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(While the associates are getting restless at Gibson Dunn….)

On Friday, Ropes & Gray and Latham announced spring bonuses. This morning we heard from Kirkland & Ellis. Firms are finally getting the message: spring bonuses are what big firms are doing this year.

So let’s keep the good times rolling. Earlier today, Proskauer Rose announced that it would be joining the spring bonus mania. And like many of the recent spring bonus firms, Proskauer is spreading the love beyond New York: L.A., D.C., and Chicago are all getting in on the spring bonuses.

(You hear that, Gibson Dunn?)

Let’s learn more about the Proskauer spring bounty, and see the memo….

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