Boies Schiller Tops Bonus Scale Again As Most Match Market

, The Am Law Daily

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As it does every year, Boies, Schiller & Flexner has awarded 2013 associate bonuses significantly sweeter than those doled out by the rest of The Am Law 100, with the firm's high end hitting $300,000. Meanwhile, at least 10 other firms have now fallen in line with the $10,000-to-$60,000 range set, as usual, by Cravath, Swaine & Moore earlier this month.

Associates at the 16-year-old Cravath spin-off received extra payments of $85,000 apiece on average this year based on a combination of factors that included hours billed, seniority, origination credit, client responsibilities and success premiums, according to Boies Schiller cofounder and managing partner Jonathan Schiller.

New associates who have been with the firm just a few weeks or months got bonuses of as little as $5,000 or $10,000, Schiller says, while those nabbing the fattest checks earned $300,000—substantially more than last year's maximum of $250,000. The minimum amount awarded to associates with the firm for at least a year was the same as last year: $25,000.

"Fees are not just for partners," Schiller says. "They're for associates and for everyone who worked on a case."

Schiller scoffs at the suggestion that his firm, with 133 associates, has a greater ability than, say, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which employs more than 1,000 associates, to be generous with bonus money.

"Their hourly rates are no lower than ours," Schiller says. "In fact, they're higher than ours. You can be sure those associates are generating an enormous amount of revenue. How much of that do they get to share?"

Skadden is among nearly a dozen firms that have announced associate bonuses that match the so-called Cravath scale established Dec. 2. Other firms in that category include: Bracewell & Giuliani; Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Proskauer Rose; Shearman & Sterling; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

Ropes & Gray announced bonuses in line with the Cravath scale for its junior associates, with those in the class of 2010 and more senior receiving individualized bonuses dependent on whether or not they billed 1,900 hours. Fried Frank also strayed from the norm slightly; in a memo reviewed by The Am Law Daily, Fried Frank cochairs Valerie Ford Jacob and David Greenwald said additional bonuses may be awarded "to associates who have shown exceptional performance based on activity levels and quality of hours worked, client service, pro bono activities and firm contributions." (Legal blog Above the Law has been the first to report a majority of the bonus announcements. The New York Times broke the news of Boies Schiller's bonuses Wednesday.)

Bracewell's New York managing partner, Daniel Connolly, said the firm has matched the market rates in New York since opening its Manhattan office eight years ago. The firm notifies associates in its other offices—who are eligible for as much as, but possibly less than, their New York counterparts—about their bonuses in February.

According to the scale set by Cravath, associates who graduated from law school in 2012 will get $10,000 this year on top of their salary, with a prorated payout for those who started at the firm this fall. The figure jumps to $27,000 for the class of 2009, $40,000 for the class of 2007 and $60,000 for those in the class of 2005 and more senior associates. (See the full scale here.)

Connolly says he doesn't see bonus season as a game of follow-the-leader, even though his firm and many others wait until Cravath or, occasionally, another of the New York firms sets the scale. "Essentially it's a marketplace," he says. "The associates are the lifeblood of every law firm, big, medium and small. Their value is essentially defined by the marketplace."

Schiller says that in his view, the market bonuses paid at other firms "reflect how much money partners in law firms want to keep for themselves." In contrast, he says, "ours reflect how hard associates have worked based on the formula compensation. … We treat our associates as people we have recruited with intensity and expect to excel here."

The bonus announcement comes as Boies Schiller leaders prepare for the firm's annual retreat, being held in Key Biscane, Fla., and which all of the firm's lawyers are invited to attend along with their families at the firm's expense. Among the topics on the gathering's agenda: which associates the firm will promote to partner this year, Schiller says. Last year, Boies Schiller promoted 13 lawyers to partner. In 2012, a single lawyer became partner, an oddity that Schiller says reflected the fact that there was only one attorney eligible for promotion with the requisite eight or so years of experience.

Firms across The Am Law 200 have been rolling out partner promotion announcements in recent weeks. Cravath recently said it will elevate six of its lawyers to the partnership ranks as of January, compared to the five who made the jump this year. Proskauer promoted 11 in early November, up from three it elevated a year earlier. And Cleary will have six new partners as of January, down from the eight who were promoted as of January 2013.

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