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Bonus structures?

Posted: Sun May 13, 2018 2:20 pm
by Anonymous User
I’m looking to move firms and I have been perusing bonus letters/emails to see who gets what and stuff. I stumbled across a firm that I’m considering (Goodwin) and saw that only 70% of associates get market. Then I read Kirkland’s and saw that people get paid half of market (and therefore I’m assuming that some associates probably get zilch). Is that normal for a lot of these big firms? I was always under the impression that the biggest firms paid everyone a market bonus if they advertised the market scale.

Anyone have any insight? I’m looking mainly at NY or Chicago so if anyone could tell me how many associates get “shafted” at the NY or Chicago offices, that’d be great.

I know bonus shouldn’t be the deciding factor, and it isn’t, but I’m currently at a non-market paying firm in the southeast (think Charlotte/Atlanta) and I’ve been factoring in a market bonus for cost of living.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Sun May 13, 2018 9:10 pm
by shock259
Curious - where are you getting the 50% or 70% numbers?

Most firms will pay you your full bonus if you hit your billable hour requirement. Some firms have a fluffier process, but it is usually only to give bonuses (or partial bonuses) to people that do not hit the billable requirement. Outside of some extraordinary circumstances (like the Baker Mackenzie fiasco from last year), I don't think there's many cases of people making hours and not getting their full bonus. If you don't hit hours, some firms will give you none of the bonus, and some will give you a piece of it.

One caveat is that many (probably most) firms don't pay NY market bonuses outside of NY. So your "full" bonus would likely be a lot less than NY, particularly if your firm is already paying less than market salary. I would ask people in the office what the structure is before accepting.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Sun May 13, 2018 9:32 pm
by BayCat24
Anonymous User wrote:I’m looking to move firms and I have been perusing bonus letters/emails to see who gets what and stuff. I stumbled across a firm that I’m considering (Goodwin) and saw that only 70% of associates get market. Then I read Kirkland’s and saw that people get paid half of market (and therefore I’m assuming that some associates probably get zilch). Is that normal for a lot of these big firms? I was always under the impression that the biggest firms paid everyone a market bonus if they advertised the market scale.

Anyone have any insight? I’m looking mainly at NY or Chicago so if anyone could tell me how many associates get “shafted” at the NY or Chicago offices, that’d be great.

I know bonus shouldn’t be the deciding factor, and it isn’t, but I’m currently at a non-market paying firm in the southeast (think Charlotte/Atlanta) and I’ve been factoring in a market bonus for cost of living.


Where are you getting this information?

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Sun May 13, 2018 11:40 pm
by Anonymous User
https://abovethelaw.com/2017/01/associa ... good-news/

https://abovethelaw.com/2018/01/associa ... on-coming/

I got the info from above the law (links above, not sure if I’m allowed to provide links, so mods can delete if not allowed). 68% of associates at Goodwin received bonus, period, in 2016. 77% in 2017.

https://abovethelaw.com/2017/12/kirklan ... t-bonuses/

Below class rating got .5x market at Kirkland.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Mon May 14, 2018 1:01 am
by M458
Anonymous User wrote:https://abovethelaw.com/2017/01/associate-bonus-watch-no-news-is-good-news/

https://abovethelaw.com/2018/01/associa ... on-coming/

I got the info from above the law (links above, not sure if I’m allowed to provide links, so mods can delete if not allowed). 68% of associates at Goodwin received bonus, period, in 2016. 77% in 2017.

https://abovethelaw.com/2017/12/kirklan ... t-bonuses/

Below class rating got .5x market at Kirkland.


Below class rating at K&E is pretty rare for 1st-3rd years and essentially means you're about to get fired.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Mon May 14, 2018 1:13 am
by PMan99
It varies widely from firm to firm, particularly once you get out of the top 5 or 10 or whatever NY-based biglaw firms (don't care enough to look it up right now).

A lot of firms will deny bonuses based on not hitting hours or as part of a black-box review process. Some firns will deny you a bonus if you're one hour short, others will give you more leeway. Some are just cheap and don't really give market bonuses except for the top couple of performers in a class, others give everyone the same bonus regardless of your reviews. Some act like Cravath for junior associates and then start dramatically cutting back for older associates. Sometimes it depends on the particular office. Hard to know unless you have someone on the inside who is willing to give you particular information about a particular firm.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Mon May 14, 2018 4:52 am
by smokeylarue
A lot (most?) firms require you to hit hours to become eligible for a bonus. Seems very reasonable/realistic to me that only 70% of associates hit their hours at a particular firm (meaning that 30% didn’t).

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Mon May 14, 2018 1:06 pm
by hlsperson1111
I work at a firm with a fluffy, opaque bonus structure. My SO used to work at Goodwin. The short story is that it varies highly by firm.

At my firm, you need to account for a bunch of hours (won't give the exact number but it's above 2k), which includes both billable and a huge range of non billable work (business development, pro bono, going to community events, CLE, doing stuff with the summers, etc.). You are theoretically bonus eligible if you hit the overall hours threshold, but your bonus will vary widely depending on how many of your hours were billable and your reviews. Our median bonus is the market and our mean bonus is a hair below it.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Tue May 15, 2018 4:43 pm
by Anonymous User
So let me get this straight...

Even at some of these market paying firms, there is a chance that a third of the associates don’t get any bonus?

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Tue May 15, 2018 5:29 pm
by gregfootball2001
Anonymous User wrote:So let me get this straight...

Even at some of these market paying firms, there is a chance that a third of the associates don’t get any bonus?

Good use of anon.

Sure, many firms have billable requirements. Make your hours, get a bonus. Make hours plus lots of hours more, usually get a bigger bonus. Don't make hours, don't get a bonus. Those people just have to cry themselves to sleep with their $160k.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Tue May 15, 2018 6:05 pm
by Anonymous User
^ I used anon because I’m OP and I specifically stated where I’m considering an offer from.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Tue May 15, 2018 6:27 pm
by minnbills
Anonymous User wrote:So let me get this straight...

Even at some of these market paying firms, there is a chance that a third of the associates don’t get any bonus?


If you are at a reputable firm and make your hours, you will get your bonus

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Wed May 16, 2018 11:52 am
by shock259
Anonymous User wrote:So let me get this straight...

Even at some of these market paying firms, there is a chance that a third of the associates don’t get any bonus?


I think it's more accurate to say that maybe 1/3 or 1/4 don't make their hours, but basically yes - you are correct. Anecdotally those numbers seem a little to me (I would think more people hit their hours), but I definitely don't have the hard data to back up that.

As a junior associate, you can influence your hours to some extent, but they are somewhat outside of your control. I'd also ask the associates in the group you're joining what they've billed for the last few years. Make sure you do this after you receive an offer, as it could be construed as trying to see if you can coast. If everyone is doing 2500 in the group and you do good work, shouldn't be a problem.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Tue May 22, 2018 11:23 pm
by Anonymous User
minnbills wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:So let me get this straight...

Even at some of these market paying firms, there is a chance that a third of the associates don’t get any bonus?


If you are at a reputable firm and make your hours, you will get your bonus


Yes, but know that many firms that are toward the bottom half of the AmLaw100 are _struggling_ right now to keep up with the firms at the higher end of biglaw. Their profitability is in danger...they are paying associates a lot but can't really afford to pay associates market bonuses. A lot of firms don't let on about this. They were once or even recently reputable, but they can't get their business models right.

These firms' hours are NOT lower than the better-ranked firms, but they don't pay bonuses, and measure you on hitting hours, but your hours essentially get you diddly. I left a firm like this last year.

In 2016, my announced a raise to market in major markets (payable in 2017, so they punted and made us wait half a year) and then also told us that bonuses were for special performers who worked on complex matters in exceptional ways. For those of us who work with making contracts more ironclad for our clients, language like that was very alarming. When they wanted me to work as much as my friends at other firms across the street who were already getting marked, gave zero credit for training or BD (but expected us to do a ton of it), and dangled the awesome possibility of MAYBE making a $10-15K bonus (if you were one of the more senior associates), I left. I've worked at other firms and realized this was not normal.

After I left, that firm dropped out of the AmLaw100 this year. And the firm management promptly told everyone that stuff was great and rankings don't matter. Choose carefully. Ask alumni and recruiting about bonuses. This is a real part of your comp, and you should ask if you have more than one offer.

Re: Bonus structures?

Posted: Wed May 23, 2018 5:29 am
by Anonymous User
Anonymous User wrote:
minnbills wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:So let me get this straight...

Even at some of these market paying firms, there is a chance that a third of the associates don’t get any bonus?


If you are at a reputable firm and make your hours, you will get your bonus


Yes, but know that many firms that are toward the bottom half of the AmLaw100 are _struggling_ right now to keep up with the firms at the higher end of biglaw. Their profitability is in danger...they are paying associates a lot but can't really afford to pay associates market bonuses. A lot of firms don't let on about this. They were once or even recently reputable, but they can't get their business models right.

These firms' hours are NOT lower than the better-ranked firms, but they don't pay bonuses, and measure you on hitting hours, but your hours essentially get you diddly. I left a firm like this last year.

In 2016, my announced a raise to market in major markets (payable in 2017, so they punted and made us wait half a year) and then also told us that bonuses were for special performers who worked on complex matters in exceptional ways. For those of us who work with making contracts more ironclad for our clients, language like that was very alarming. When they wanted me to work as much as my friends at other firms across the street who were already getting marked, gave zero credit for training or BD (but expected us to do a ton of it), and dangled the awesome possibility of MAYBE making a $10-15K bonus (if you were one of the more senior associates), I left. I've worked at other firms and realized this was not normal.

After I left, that firm dropped out of the AmLaw100 this year. And the firm management promptly told everyone that stuff was great and rankings don't matter. Choose carefully. Ask alumni and recruiting about bonuses. This is a real part of your comp, and you should ask if you have more than one offer.



Just curious, did you end up going to an Amlaw 50 firm afterwards?