The Thanksgiving leftovers are dwindling and law firm associates are back to work today-that is, if they weren't in the office all weekend. And on the exact same day as it did last year, top law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore kicked off bonus season by announcing associate bonuses for 2012. If the last several years are any indication, it won't be long until most every other New York BigLaw firm follows suit and offers associates-surprise!-exactly the same amount of money.
In a firm-wide memo, Cravath announced the following year-end bonuses (class year refers to when attorneys graduated from law school):
Class of 2012: $10,000 (pro-rated depending on when new associates began at the firm)Class of 2011: $10,000Class of 2010: $14,000Class of 2009: $20,000Class of 2008: $27,000Class of 2007: $34,000Class of 2006: $40,000Class of 2005: $50,000Class of 2004: $60,000
While these bonuses are certainly more than generous in absolute terms-especially given that all associates in good standing receive these bonuses, regardless of differences in performance-the amounts are actually slightly lower than last year's total bonus compensation for most associates. In 2011, when Cravath awarded both year-end and spring bonuses to all attorneys, those in their second through seventh years at the firm received between $3,500 and $11,000 more in total compensation.
Not that law firm associates should be complaining about their compensation, but to put these numbers in perspective, below are Cravath's bonus numbers from 2007, when the firm awarded astronomical year-end bonuses as well as a "special" bonus:
Class of 2007: $35,000Class of 2006: $45,000Class of 2006: $55,000Class of 2004: $65,000Class of 2003: $80,000Class of 2002: $95,000Class of 2001: $110,000Class of 2000: $110,000
Yes, you read that right-a bonus of over $100,000 for a law firm associate. And what used to be an introductory bonus for a first-year associate now takes five years to earn. At this rate, it doesn't look like associates will be going back to the glory days of 2007 any time soon.
So what do you think? Are law firms waking up to the realities of the economy and making smarter compensation decisions? Or are they holding out on associates? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Rachel Marx is Vault's law editor. She covers legal news and trends relating to top law firms, law schools, and the general legal industry. Rachel holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA from Tufts University. She previously worked as a litigation associate at a large New York law firm.
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