BigLaw bonuses remain at 2009 levels for US firms, climb at UK firms

BigLaw bonuses remain at 2009 levels for US firms, climb at UK firms

As we wade into bonus season, it looks as if Cravath has once again set the bar for BigLaw. Last week, Cravath announced associate bonuses at the following levels:

Class of 2009 - $7,500
Class of 2008 - $10,000
Class of 2007 - $15,000
Class of 2006 - $20,000
Class of 2005 - $25,000
Class of 2004 - $30,000
Class of 2003 - $35,000

The rates are roughly the same as last year, though far less than the amounts Cravath awarded in 2007 and 2008-a fact that has many associates fuming. And if associates at other New York firms are hoping that their employers will use this opportunity to best Cravath by doling out fatter checks ("Skadden has a real opportunity here," says one hopeful commenter at Above the Law. "If they come in with a substantially higher bonus than Cravath this year, I'm almost certain that Skadden will be rewarded with some brownie points in next year's Vault survey. If I were them, I'd think about taking it."), they may be disappointed.

Within two days, both Skadden and Milbank announced bonuses at Cravath's rates. And today, Above the Law reports that Weil will also match Cravath-though the firm's memo does not specify the amounts; it just assures associates that they "will be paid 2010 bonuses that are commensurate with bonuses paid by peer firms." In a disappointing twist, the Weil memo adds that "the Management Committee has determined that starting in 2011, there will no longer be a Distinguished bonus, which is a bonus in excess of bonuses paid by peer firms."

Meanwhile, across the pond in the UK, lawyers at top firms are seeing their bonuses climb as salaries drop. The Financial Times reports that average starting salaries for newly qualified solicitors at top London firms has fallen by about 10 percent since 2009, from £64,200 to £59,000. But, at the same time, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, bonuses for experienced lawyers now average more than 20 percent of their salary, compared with 15 percent in 2009.



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