The fable of the ant and the grasshopper may have lessons for the world of large law firms.
As regular readers of Above the Law well know, most major law firms — with a fewnotableexceptions — did not pay spring or mid-year bonuses in 2012. Our associate readers generally viewed this news with disappointment, while our partner readers had less of a problem with it.
But perhaps even associates should have been supportive of their firms’ decisions not to pay spring bonuses. Storm clouds are gathering over the law firm world. So says a recent report by Biglaw’s biggest bankers, over at Citigroup….
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard some surprising rumblings of discontent from Boies Schiller. Why do we say “surprising”? Because the complaints have been about compensation, which is typically something that BSF lawyers never complain about.
Boies Schiller, the litigation powerhouse founded by the legendary David Boies, is an amazing firm. Its lawyers work on some of the biggest and most important cases of our time, and their compensation reflects that. In addition to paying above-market base salaries — the BSF scale starts at $174,000 — the firm pays bonuses that blow the NYC market out of the water.
In recent years, Boies has made two bonus payments to associates, one in December and one in April. But this year, April came and went, and many lawyers did not receive any payout. Of those who did receive payments, many were surprised at the small size.
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?
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?
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.”
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….
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….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…