It’s October 19, and with Halloween nearly upon us, that means bonus season is right around the corner. In years past, Biglaw firms were all about treats, offering pandemic-related special bonuses amid a white-hot lateral market. But here in 2022, some firms are handing out tricks — like $0 in summer bonuses and even layoffs — thanks to a lull in demand for legal services. Associates seem especially anxious about their year-end bonuses. In fact, the thousand-plus respondents to our annual bonus season survey don’t think 2022’s overall bonus compensation will reach anywhere near the heights that last year’s did.
- Class of 2021 – $15,000 (pro-rated)
- Class of 2020 – $20,000
- Class of 2019 – $30,000
- Class of 2018 – $57,500
- Class of 2017 – $75,000
- Class of 2016 – $90,000
- Class of 2015 – $105,000
- Class of 2014 – $115,000
This was the first time in years that Cravath had increased the size of its bonuses across all class years. Everyone saw more money, and the most senior associates in Biglaw received $115,000 instead of the usual $100,000. All the Cravath cash plus DPW dollars made for a bountiful Biglaw payday. In short, it was a great year for bonuses. With all of that background, let’s turn to this year’s bonuses.
Considering current economic conditions, what will 2022 bonuses look like?
The majority of associates surveyed (71%) said they don’t expect any change from 2021 bonuses. A minority (8%) expect them to be higher, while 20% believe they will be lower. Biglaw firms better not disappoint when it comes to bonus payouts this year, because we can’t even imagine the state of uproar it would cause among associates.
Will any other money be headed associates’ way? Our survey respondents seem pretty pessimistic when it comes to bonuses on top of bonuses in 2022.
Considering current economic conditions, do you think any additional special bonuses will be offered?
Few associates (8%) expect to see any special bonuses this year. The vast majority of respondents (88%) said they do not believe any additional special bonuses will be offered. Will Davis Polk — or really, any other firm that wants to make a very good name for itself — swoop in to save what would otherwise be a bonus season where associates receive less cash compensation than last year? We suppose we shall see.
For those of you who are wondering when your bank accounts will be a little more flush, here’s a list of the dates when year-end market bonuses hit Biglaw since 2006, the very first year Above the Law started publishing bonus news. Take a look:
For the past few years, bonus announcements had been made in early to mid-November until Cravath stretched the timeline by a smidge in 2021. Let’s see when our respondents think this year’s first bonus will be announced.
When do you think 2022 bonuses will be announced?
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents believe that bonuses won’t be announced until the fourth week of November or later. Last year, the same proportion (65%) predicted bonuses would be announced before the week of Thanksgiving. This (sort of) lines up with past precedent set by Cravath — if we assume that Cravath will be the first firm on bonuses this year, that is.
Cravath tends to stick to a schedule as far as these things are concerned, and the firm tends to announce its bonus news on either the last Monday in November or the first Monday in the first week of December. But with other firms in the mix — especially firms like Davis Polk and Milbank — it’s really hard to say what will happen. There may be no rhyme nor reason when it comes to this year’s big bonus announcements.
While associates are busy counting down the hours until Bonus Day, they’re likely even busier counting up the hours they’re on track to bill in 2022 to meet bonus eligibility targets. Just how much are associates billing in our “post”-pandemic world? The answer is: not nearly as much as they billed last year, by any stretch of the imagination. Here are the full survey results:
How many hours are you on track to bill in 2022?
The largest group of associates (22%) said they are on track to bill between 2000 and 2099 hours. That’s comparable to last year’s numbers for the same billable hour range (21%). Overall, however, associates report billing fewer hours than last year. While 42% of respondents this year said they are on track to bill 2100 hours or more, in 2021, more than 60% said the same. And whereas last year 19% of associates said they were on track to record fewer than 2000 hours, this year the figure has almost doubled to 37%. Yikes. Maybe this is why associates are so worried about the prospect of layoffs.
But why sour the mood with talk of layoffs? Biglaw associates can soon look forward to their bank accounts being stuffed like the Thanksgiving turkeys they’ll gobble down at the end of next month.
Remember everyone, we depend on your tips to stay on top of important bonus updates, so when your firm announces or matches, please text us (646-820-8477) or email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Bonus/Matches”). Please include the memo if available. You can take a photo of the memo and send it via text or email if you don’t want to forward the original PDF or Word file.
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Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.