Springtime Bonus Watch 2012

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….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Spring Bonuses? Anybody? The Silence Isn’t Funny Anymore.”

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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Earlier this week, Kirkland & Ellis associates started receiving phone calls about their bonuses. Many associates are reporting that their bonuses “shattered the market.” In the words of one K&E source, “It is mad money. Huge year for everyone here.”

It’s important to note that Kirkland has a “black box” bonus structure, in which the payouts are highly individualized and based on performance and hours. Every year, there are some winners and losers.

Right now we’re hearing a lot of chatter from K&E winners. Many are reporting bonuses that are significantly higher than Cravath — which really isn’t hard to do, given how terribly low the Cravath bonuses are this year (so low that partners at other firms are thanking their Cravath counterparts). More to the point, we’ve got K&E people saying they made more than they would have at Quinn Emanuel (which is impressive!).

But, there’s a catch. While some firms like Sullivan & Cromwell anticipate paying spring bonuses, some of our Kirkland friends are telling us that this bonus is inclusive of a spring payout. So K&E might not pay a spring bonus, even if other firms do…

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It seems that founding partner John Quinn isn’t the only one at Quinn Emanuel with a surplus of Benjamins right about now. On Friday, the litigation powerhouse announced its 2011 year-end bonus scale — and, for the most part, it’s more generous than the benchmark Cravath bonus scale.

We say “for the most part” because, for associates billing under 2100 hours, the scale is below Cravath — but just slightly. And it’s our understanding that not many QE associates bill less than 2100 hours anyway.

Let’s take a look at the details….

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It appears that the answer to that question is, “You’re welcome.”

If you made a list of people whose opinions matter when it comes to Biglaw bonuses, you couldn’t name ten people more important than Susan Webster. She’s the head of the general corporate practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore. If we knew how much she tipped her doorman, it would be big news.

But we can do better than that.

A tipster let us in on an overheard conversation between Webster and a Biglaw partner at a different firm. When we contacted her, Webster told us that the tipster mischaracterized the nature of her accidentally public conversation.

But why don’t you take a look, and prepare yourself for the possibility of a very sad spring….

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Lat here. As Elie just predicted, Sullivan & Cromwell has shown up to Bigfoot the partnership of Cravath — sort of. It has announced a year-end bonus scale that is very similar to, but slightly better than, the Cravath bonus scale.

And, more importantly, it has promised spring bonuses. The ATL headquarters is around Soho, but we could hear the gnashing of partners’ teeth in both midtown and downtown Manhattan.

Let’s get into the specifics….

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