The favorite season in a lawyer’s year has begun. No, we are not having Christmas lights in mind but about something shining even brighter – associate bonuses. The season has begun and, as in the previous years, it was opened by Cravath announcing their bonuses on Monday, November 27th. The Cravath’s scheme for 2017 is equal to the already familiar one from 2016 and 2015, and it looks as follows:

 

Class of 2017 $15,000 (pro-rated)
Class of 2016 $15,000
Class of 2015 $25,000
Class of 2014 $50,000
Class of 2013 $65,000
Class of 2012 $80,000
Class of 2011 $90,000
Class of 2010 $100,000
Class of 2009 $100,000

 

 

The market scheme being set by Cravath and followed by other U.S. Biglaw firms in a certain order is the already familiar Bonus Season plot development. Since last Monday, the first ones to match the scale were Milbank Tweed, followed by Paul, Weiss, Simpson Thacher, Proskauer Rose, Debevoise & Plimpton, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Shearman & Sterling, Covington & Burling, Kaplan & Company LLC, Davis Polk, Kasowitz Benson Torres, litigation boutique Holwell Shuster & Goldberg and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Linklaters were the first of the Magic Circle to match Cravath after which Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Freshfields quickly announced as well. Norton Rose Fulbright and Dechert also matched Cravath but added a billable hours’ requirement to qualifying for the announced bonus. Only a few firms topped Cravath’s scheme. One of those is Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who announced a bonus who will match the market scale or be even higher for associates that made an outstanding contribution to the firm. In such cases the scheme looks like this:

 

Class of 2017 $18,000 (pro-rated)
Class of 2016 $18,000
Class of 2015 $30,000
Class of 2014 $60,000
Class of 2013 $78,000
Class of 2012 $96,000
Class of 2011 $108,000
Class of 2010 $120,000
Class of 2009 $120,000

 

Similarly, Winston & Strawn has announced, that in addition to the standard bonuses, associates who have contributed the firm greatly by “substantially exceeding the Firm’s 2,000 hour productivity goal” will receive additional bonuses. Fried Frank is also keeping the outline of Cravath’s scheme but adding some of their own adjustments. They have added a 2,000 hours minimum of billable hours to reach the Cravath bonus amount but have also announced additional bonuses for a greater amount of billable hours by the following formula:

2,200 hours – Cravath’s scheme bonus + 15% and 2,450 hours – Cravath’s scheme bonus + 30%.

While almost all other Biglaw firms are giving in to the ‘peer pressure’, from Skadden, as in the previous years, they are announcing individual bonuses with regard to individual associate’s contribution to the firm. Similarly, Ropes & Gray are matching the set market scale for the 2015-2017 associates while for others, the bonuses are determined individually, by the personal contribution to the firm. Akin Gump on the other hand will not pay the bonuses to the first-year associates despite the firm’s good ranking and profits per partner but are following the Cravath recipe for other associates.

The only firm that has generously topped the Cravath scale, sending a clear message about the firm’s success and the value of their associates is Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz. Their 2017 bonuses scheme looks like this:

 

Class of 2016 $22,500
Class of 2015 $37,500
Class of 2014 $75,000
Class of 2013 $97,500
Class of 2012 $120,000
Class of 2011 $135,000
Class of 2010 $150,000

 

Firms have announced different payment dates, but are mostly consistent with those of the previous years. It is still pretty early in the season, so reasons and conditions for the bonuses have not been completely disclosed. As in previous years, Bonus Season has been carefully watched over by Above the Law’s Bonus Watch receiving daily tips and information from individual firms. Even though this is the peak season for New York firms’ bonus announcements, law firms in other cities have previously waited until after the New Years’ to announce their bonuses, and it seems like this is to be expected this season as well.

This article was written by Petra Svob.