Rich Lawyers 'Livid' Because New York Lawyers Are Slightly Richer

Fat bonuses by New York's Davis Polk & Wardwell cause headaches at other firms
Photographer: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

It has been a long and feisty bonus season in the world of big law firms. First, several New York firms announced bonuses for senior associates that were around $40,000 fatter than last year's haul. Most remarkably, the fancy firm Davis Polk & Wardwell announced market-leading bonuses for all levels of associates, who are lawyers that haven't been made partners, including $100,000 for the longest-serving employees. In a scramble to match the precedent set by Davis and to soothe anxious lawyers, some firms quickly revised their original bonus scales. Now some lawyers outside the city are protesting their comparatively paltry payouts.

Gibson Dunn initially set below-market bonuses for all its employees, but then lifted them—for New York lawyers only. That move produced waves of discontent among people who lack the advantage of a New York ZIP Code, according to Above the Law, a blog that tracks the industry. The firm bowed to market pressures eventually, raising the bar for lawyers outside the city, but not everyone was placated. Most irked were associates who billed fewer hours than their peers and didn't get a bump from the initial rates.

Save your dismay, because there is yet a worse industry offender: Meet Arnold & Porter, a firm that nonchalantly forced some of its lawyers to recognize their lesser pay. In a memo sent this month, the firm listed bonus levels for associates at all experience levels—and locations, Above the Law reported. The most senior associates can expect to earn $100,000—in line with the levels set by the altruistic bosses at Davis Polk—if they're in New York City. If they happen to work at one of the firm's other offices, they'll get $30,000 less in bonus money for working the same amount of time. Associates one level down will also earn $100,000 in New York but will earn almost half that—$57,500—at other locations. People are not entirely thrilled about this situation. One Arnold & Porter associate told Above the Law that "a large number of associates are discussing leaving the firm," and another described the general mood as "livid." Maybe this isn't the best time to quit, given that employment for law grads is down for the sixth year in a row. But by all means, yes, get righteously ticked off. Having your boss hand you a check for more than the median household income in the U.S. is the absolute worst.

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