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Cleary, Simpson Thacher, Goodwin to Give Out Special Bonuses (3)

March 25, 2021, 3:41 PM; Updated: March 25, 2021, 9:27 PM

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and Goodwin Procter have entered the 2021 special bonus fray by announcing that they will match the scale for associate payouts set by Davis Polk & Wardwell and followed by several other firms this week.

Cleary will hand out special bonuses in two rounds on April 30 and Aug. 30 to associates in good standing and actively employed on those dates, according to a memo viewed by Bloomberg Law on Thursday.

Total cash for associates will depend on associate class year and will reach up to $12,000 for the newest associates and $64,000 for the most senior.

Memos from Simpson Thacher and Goodwin viewed by Bloomberg Law said the firms will follow a similar bonus scale, but will make payments June 30 and Sept. 30 and July 1 and Oct. 1 respectively.

Goodwin’s memos said its bonuses are applicable to associates in the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, and Luxembourg who have reached or exceeded a threshold of 1850 annualized hours. In the U.K., trainees and “newly qualified” Goodwin lawyers will be eligible for smaller payouts.

Aside from associates, the firm’s U.S., U.K, and Luxembourg counsel who meet hourly requirements will be able to claim bonuses of up to $64,000 total, the memos said. And in the U.S., a slew of others including discovery attorneys, senior attorneys, and science law clerks and advisors may also be eligible for special bonuses.

Extra bonuses at the firms are not expected to affect the customary end-of-year bonuses that associates receive on an annual basis.

The trio of announcements place these firms among a growing number that have unveiled new 2021 special bonuses over the past week, including Davis Polk, Paul Weiss, Milbank, and Debevoise & Plimpton.

Such bonuses can reward associates for their hard work in a busy environment while also providing a major retention incentive at a time when one recruiter said the associate lateral hiring market is the hottest it’s been in 15 years.

Many Big Law firms had their best year in recent memory in 2020, racking up better financial results than then many predicted they could at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. That momentum has continued into 2021.

Big Law firms have typically avoided handing out bonuses to associates outside of their annual bonus cycle, but that changed last fall when a group of firms began doling out special bonuses of up to $40,000.

The bonus rush seemed to have quieted down in 2021, until Willkie, Farr & Gallagher revealed last week that it would issue two-part special bonuses, prompting Davis Polk and others to up the ante with bigger payouts.

(Adds detail about U.K. eligibility for bonuses in paragraph six.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editor on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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