More law firms join end-of-year bonus race following Cravath

REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
  • Firms say they'll give out associate bonuses ranging from $15,000 to $115,000
  • Boies Schiller and Cadwalader offer extra cash to those who bill more hours

(Reuters) - A trio of large law firms said Tuesday that they'll pay year-end associate bonuses on a scale largely matching that of frequent industry pay pacesetter Cravath, Swaine & Moore, amid a highly competitive market for lawyer recruitment.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and Boies Schiller Flexner all said they'd pay bonuses this year ranging from $15,000 for first-year associates up to $115,000 for the most senior. Boies Schiller and Cadwalader also said they'd offer additional cash for associates who have clocked extra billable hours.

Cravath kicked off the latest round of bonuses Monday, increasing rates for associates across the board, including by 15% over last year's payouts for the most experienced associates.

Associates at many large firms during the last 18 months have been showered with additional cash from their employers, as demand for their work has surged, especially in transactional practices. Payouts aside from end-of-year bonuses have come in the form of salary raises and "special bonuses," often paid in installments.

Boies Schiller said in its Tuesday bonus memo that it would pay “extraordinary” and “extra-extraordinary” end-of-year bonuses of up to $140,000 for associates billing 2,350 hours this year or more, and up to $150,000 for those billing 2,600 or more.

The litigation firm’s associate headcount has dwindled amid a firmwide restructuring and a slew of partner departures. London-based partner Natasha Harrison, once seen as next in line to run Boies Schiller, is set to leave, two sources close to the firm said last week.

Cadwalader said in its Tuesday bonus announcement that its associates working 2,200 or more billable hours this year will receive 120% of the firm's set year-end bonuses.

In addition to cash, some firms in recent months have offered gift incentives to associates. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom is giving associates a “holiday appreciation gift” that includes an iPad Pro 11, according to a firm memo published by Above the Law on Tuesday.

More large firms are likely to reveal their associate bonus payouts before the end of 2021.

Michelle Fivel, a partner at legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, said she expects most will fall in line with Cravath's bonuses, but wouldn't be “shocked” if another firm ups the ante.

Read more:

Cravath kicks off year-end bonus season with payouts reaching $115K

Boies promises ‘extra-extraordinary’ bonuses to associates

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Xiumei Dong covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firm strategy and growth, in-house counsel and the Washington, D.C., legal market. Reach her at Xiumei.Dong@thomsonreuters.com.