The bonus announcements at the end of 2010 highlight the continuing battle between merit-based and lockstep associate compensation systems. Some firms adhere to Cravath’s approach: Each associate class gets the same amount — as the firm said, “billable hour or other similar criteria do not apply” and “virtually all associates will receive the full bonus.” Other firms make distinctions — usually based on billable hours — that mean huge dollar differences within a class.

Which system should associates prefer?

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