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Gibbs & Bruns, a 34-lawyer litigation boutique in Houston, recently set a high bar for associate bonuses by paying bonuses to its 10 associates that are at least as large as their yearly base salary. Those bonuses were paid to the associates over the past year, but the firm paid a big chunk of the money April 13, in the wake of two large litigation settlements finalized during the week of April 10. The firm has had a good run of settlements over the past 12 months, with settlements exceeding $500 million. Partner Robin Gibbs says he cannot discuss the terms of the settlements. But partner Kathy Patrick confirms that the firm represents plaintiffs in the National Century Financial Enterprises multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The MDL consolidates a number of suits filed in connection with the bankruptcy of NCFE, a company that financed health-care receivables. In a recent 10-k filing, defendant JPMorgan Chase reported that it agreed in February to pay a total of $425 million to plaintiffs in the MDL. Gibbs says Gibbs & Bruns has a policy to share the wealth with its employees, and that led to the bonuses paid last week. “Each of our associates received a bonus at least equal to salary,” Gibbs says. Including the recent payment, Gibbs says senior associates have received as much as two times their salary in bonus payments over the past 12 months. Some were paid more than $300,000 in bonus money, he says. Patrick says the firm pays out bonus money at various times of the year, not just at year-end like many other firms. “When we make money on contingent-fee cases, we share the wealth from Robin [Gibbs] right down to the newest employee,” Patrick says. “We don’t differentiate whether you worked on the case or not.” Gibbs says that, also on April 13, staff at the firm received bonuses equivalent to several months’ salary. Gibbs says the recent run of settlements has been extraordinary. “It’s a big deal for us to have had this good of a year,” Gibbs says. In the meantime, Gibbs says the firm is looking at its associate salary scale in the wake of increases adopted by many of Texas’ largest firms in recent weeks. He notes that the starting base salary for first-year associates at Gibbs & Bruns has been $127,000 since 1999. The new, higher market base salary rate for first-year associates at Big-Tex firms is around $135,000. Last December, 76-lawyer Susman Godfrey, another litigation boutique, paid year-end bonuses to its associates ranging from $86,000 to $150,000. At the time, partner Stephen Susman said the bonuses were paid because the firm’s financial performance for the year was second only to its best-ever results in 2004. The Susman Godfrey bonuses averaged 75 percent of each associate’s base pay.

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