Today is August 18. It’s been nearly three full business weeks since we publicized what we believed were the first special bonuses to be handed out to associates this summer. Since then, we’ve heard nothing but crickets. The firm’s announcement has been more or less ignored.
Biglaw firms have played this waiting game before when it comes to bonuses, but this is getting to be a bit much. Where is Milbank? What about Davis Polk? There’s nothing like Cravath’s seal of approval to kick off bonus matches, but the firm has thus far remained silent.
Let’s face it: with a grim-looking Q2 Law Firm Financial Index and profits per partner having taken a double-digit plunge according to the latest report from Wells Fargo, Biglaw firms seem to be running scared from the concept of special bonuses. As we’ve previously documented, associates who continue to work around the clock are really upset, and they have every right to be.
Littler Mendelson, on the other hand, shared the wealth with its associates, no matter the forecast of the looming recession. It’s true that salaries at the firm are highly individualized (i.e., they may not be paying top comp), so there was a little more wiggle room to hand out these bonuses in the first place. But it’s not as if the bonuses were as big as those that were handed out by Biglaw in the past — we’re talking about bonuses that averaged about $10,000. Surely Biglaw firms can handle bonuses of this size… right? In a statement given to Law360, Erin Webber, the firm’s managing director and president, had this to say:
“With the substantial increase in business demand, we recognize that many of our attorneys are working harder than ever this year. We feel it is important to recognize their dedication to meeting client needs and their commitment to providing excellent work product and client service in this first half of the year. At Littler, we are intently focused on further elevating our strategies for developing and attracting talent. Awarding such special recognition bonuses is just one way to show our gratitude for the hard work and exceptional contributions of our team members.”
It must be nice to feel appreciated. Associates fondly recall the special bonuses of 2020 and 2021, but in 2022, they’ve been left waiting and wanting.
Is all hope lost for special bonuses this summer? We certainly don’t want to rain on associates’ parade, but with all of the news of economic doom and gloom, it seems less and less likely to occur. We’d really love it, of course, if another firm shocked the market with special bonuses — and so would associates — but this is taking way too long to inspire our confidence.
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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.