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Cleary, Skadden and Milbank Announce Year-End Associate Bonuses

Nov. 24, 2020, 9:01 PM

Associate bonus season has kicked into high gear as a trio of law firms said on Tuesday that they would follow the year-end bonus scale announced a day earlier by Cravath Swaine & Moore.

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom said that they would match the pair of bonuses announced by Cravath, which will pay up to an additional $140,000 for its senior associates.

The 2020 bonus season follows a year of uncertainty for law firms as they navigated through the coronavirus pandemic. For some top law firms, and their associates, the year has been one of their busiest.

Like Cravath, Cleary’s year-end bonus scale will range from $15,000 for its first-year associates to $100,000 for its senior associates, according to a internal Cleary memo. The memo’s accuracy was confirmed by Cleary spokesperson Shannon Lynch. The firms will also reward associates with a special bonus thatmatches the fall bonus scale set by Davis Polk & Wardwell in September.

Milbank, which got associate bonus season start last year, also said it would match Cravath’s year-end scale.

Milbank was among several Big Law firms that followed Davis Polk’s lead in the fall and paid out special bonuses ranging from $7,500 for first-year associates to $40,000 for senior associates. Those payments were described as a way to reward attorneys for their hard work during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also raised concerns among in-house lawyers about whether the firm’s corporate clients would eventually be asked to pick up the tab.

Others, like Cleary, Kirkland & Ellis, Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, and Cravath, declined to pay fall rewards, opting instead to stick with their year-end bonus structures. Cravath, Cleary and Skadden are among those now catching up by rolling out separate bonuses along with the annual bonuses that they typically give associates at the end of the year.

Skadden’s year-end bonuses will range from $15,000 for first-year associates to as much as $110,000 for its most senior associates. The firm, which didn’t hand out fall bonuses, will also pay separate special bonuses up to $40,000 for its senior associates.

Though Cravath, the perennial standard bearer in Big Law compensation, has set a new total bonus high, the firm did not strike first with end-of-year bonus announcements.

Baker McKenzie, which in April instituted 15% pay cuts for its U.S. lawyers and high-paid staff, was the first Big Law firm to announce, hitting last year’s end-of-year bonus scale of up to $100,000, but noted that it would match any increases in the market.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;

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