Top-tier law firm Clifford Chance has joined the bonus bandwagon by announcing bonuses that matches the levels of Cravath Swaine & Moore even as some law firms like Cahill Gordon & Reindel and Susman Godfrey have announced fatter payouts.
According to a Clifford Chance memo, the associates' bonuses, ranging from $7,500 to $35,000, will be based upon an assessment of each associate's overall performance, including quality of work, contribution, teamwork and volunteer efforts.
In April this year, Clifford Chance had shrugged off its old UK bonus system of using billable hours targets as the key benchmark for domestic associate bonuses. The associate bonuses were based on performance, but only if individuals had first reached a target number of hours billed.
Clifford Chance's bonuses, which are for associates of the 2003-09 class years, matches the levels of Cravath Swaine & Moore (which kicked off the year-end bonus season), Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Morrison & Foerster, Willkie Farr, Akin Gump and several others. The bonus levels for Clifford associates are based on post-qualification experience (PQE). The 2003 rate is also applicable for senior associates outside of the PQE range. Clifford associates will have to wait till Jan. 7 to get their hands on the money.
Debevoise & Plimpton and Davis Polk & Wardwell have also matched Cravath in terms of bonus scale.
Also matching Cravath bonus scale is Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. However, according to Above the Law, Cadwalader bonus payout is conditional i.e. to be eligible for the bonus, the associate must meet the minimum billable hours requirement.
Sidley Austin associates bonus payout also matches Cravath scale though some associates claim to have received bonuses that top their Cravath counterpart. However, they are not many in number and probably are those who have far exceeded the [g]eneral eligibility criteria i.e. billable hours (2000 hours).
Interestingly, Sidley has not yet announced the exact bonus payout. In a memo, the firm said it determined bonuses on an individual basis.
Year-end bonuses continue to be discretionary and, where awarded, are tailored to each associate's circumstances. General eligibility criteria remain the same as in past years. In establishing bonus amounts, we have given substantial weight to the quality of an associate's work, which remains the most important factor in evaluating an associate's performance and prospects for long-term success at the Firm. We also have considered the hours that each associate has spent on chargeable, pro bono, and certain non-chargeable matters, such as legal services and other special contributions to the Firm, the firm said in the memo.
Meanwhile, not all law firms are happy with just matching the Cravath scale.
Cahill Gordon & Reindel has reportedly upped its ante and will be paying its associates an additional bonus of up to $25,000, excluding the year-end bonus that equals the Cravath scale. According to reports published by Above the Law and New York Law Journal are correct, senior Cahill associates could be all set to receive as much as $75,000 in 2010 - or more than double the bonuses announced by Cravath - including the mid-year bonuses that ranged from $2,500 to $15,000.
Also topping Cravath's bonus scale is boutique law firm Susman Godfrey. The 90-lawyer strong law firm, which has offices in Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle, has announced annual bonuses ranging from $45,000 to more than $100,000. In fact, the bonus payouts of some Susman associates are around 50 percent of their annual salaries.
Quinn Emanuel has not only matched Cravath's bonus scale but also topped it by promising to pay its hard-working associates 150 percent of the widely adopted Cravath bonus scale. However, Emanuel's bonus announcement comes with two caveats:  associates need to meet the billable hours requirement (2100 hours) to get the Cravath-level bonus and  the additional 50 percent bonus payment will be made in June 2011 to associates who are in good standing and who have continued to maintain the billable hours required of them at that time. Above the Law calls it retention bonus of sorts.
Joining Cahill, Susman and Quinn is Kaye Scholer in topping Cravath's bonus scale. According to the Scholer memo, the law firm will match Cravath's bonus scale for its 2003-2009 associates who clock a minimum of 1800 billable hours.
However, Scholer goes a step further and promises to dole out additional bonuses to those who clock a minimum of 2250 billable hours. This category of associates (termed 'Tier 2' by Scholer) will get additional bonuses that range between $10,000 and $20,000.
Scholer will pay the bonuses on Jan. 21.