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Debevoise, Clifford Chance, Ropes & Gray Announce Bonuses (2)

Nov. 25, 2020, 5:53 PM; Updated: Nov. 25, 2020, 8:16 PM

Debevoise & Plimpton, Clifford Chance, and Ropes & Gray are the latest to join Big Law’s end-of-year bonus rush, handing extra cash to associates in a year of challenges and uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a traditional standard-setter for Big Law compensation, said earlier this week it would bestow year-end awards ranging from $15,000 for first-year associates to $100,000 for senior associates, plus a special bonus reaching up to $40,000 depending on seniority. Other firms quickly followed suit.

Debevoise matched Cravath in a memo viewed by Bloomberg Law that announced the firm would meet the end-of-year range of up to $100,000. Debevoise already handed out special bonuses to its associates earlier this fall equivalent to those handed out by Cravath and originally introduced to the market by Davis Polk & Wardwell in September.

In the memo dated Nov. 24, Debevoise presiding partner Michael Blair thanked associates for their commitment to client service during a year of “extraordinary challenges.”

In a Nov. 25 memo signed by Evan Cohen, Clifford Chance’s Americas regional managing partner, and provided to Bloomberg Law by the firm, Clifford Chance said it would match Cravath by providing the same set of traditional year-end bonuses plus the same range of special bonuses.

The memo said the firm will be basing its bonus awards to be paid Jan. 15 “upon an assessment of each associate’s overall performance, including quality of work, contribution to the firm, teamwork and pro bono efforts.”

Ropes & Gray also announced 2020 bonuses that will be distributed by Dec. 24, according to the text of a firm memo viewed by Bloomberg Law. Both end-of-year and special bonuses follow the scales used by Cravath.

The memo said Ropes & Gray uses billable and pro bono hours to determine year-end bonus eligibility, but the firm will give associates multiple options for how to calculate their eligibility in order to better accommodate those most affected by this year’s economic downturn. The firm also is offering extra cash for its highest billers.

“Because 2020 has been a special year, we have decided to increase the typical high-performance bonuses we pay every year to associates who annualized 2,100 hours or more,” the memo said.

Paul Weiss, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, and Milbank are among the other firms that are set to pay their associates up to $140,000 in total bonuses this year.

Major firms have been beset by changes in 2020, adopting new work-from-home approaches and watching warily to see whether client business would drop off as corporations navigated an economy reshaped by Covid-19.

Big Law firms often dole out substantial bonuses to associates near the end of the year. This year, some firms like Debevoise added separate earlier payments, spurred by a trendsetting move from Davis Polk to give its associates an early reward of up to $40,000 for hard work during the global pandemic.

Some firms did not participate in those bonuses, but as the year draws to a close, many are opting to distribute the additional sums on top of traditional year-end bonus payouts.

(Adds information on Ropes & Gray's bonuses )

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Chris Opfer in New York copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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