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Associates with Patton Boggs may soon feast on two helpings of bonus money under a new system the firm is using this year to reward them for work in 2007. Patton Boggs will pay deserving associates one bonus in January based purely on their billable hours in 2007 and a second, discretionary bonus in February that’s based partly on billable hours but also considers criteria such as pro bono work and participation in firm committees, says Stanley Mayo, managing partner of the firm’s 109-lawyer Dallas office. The cumulative bonuses will range from about $10,000 to as much as $70,000, he says. Mayo says the new bonus plan adopted by the D.C.-based firm is designed not only to reward associates for their overall effort with the discretionary bonus but also to reward those who racked up an excess of billable hours during the year. Patton Boggs assigns associates to one of three tracks, calling for a minimum of 1,650, 1,800, or 1,950 hours, depending on practice area, and then rewards associates with bonus money for working 100, 200, 300, or 500 additional hours above those minimums, Mayo says. “We were doing just a discretionary bonus; however, we felt like some of the associates — certainly in Dallas, New York, and New Jersey — were working excess hours, and we felt we should provide a special bonus to them and bifurcated” the bonus payments, Mayo says. Patton Boggs associates are also required to put in at least 100 hours of pro bono work during the year, and if they fail to do so for two years in a row, they won’t receive a bonus the second year, he says. A BIT RICHER While Texas associates at Patton Boggs haven’t yet received their bonuses rewarding performance in 2007, many other associates in Texas are now a bit richer due to bonus money or, like Patton Boggs associates, will soon receive bonus checks. Overall, large Texas-based firms and out-of-state firms with large Texas operations paid bonuses roughly equivalent to what they paid associates for 2006 work or a little more than the previous year, according to interviews with lawyers at the firms. The generous bonuses are in addition to base salary raises that many big firms in Texas, although not all of them, gave associates in 2007, as the Texas market rate base salary for first-year associates increased to $160,000. Fifteen of the 25 firms with the most lawyers in Texas as of Jan. 1, 2007, provided information on associate bonuses for 2007. While not among the 25 firms with the most lawyers in Texas, litigation firm Susman Godfrey has been a giant among firms due to its hefty bonus payments in recent years. Name partner Stephen Susman says the Houston-based firm paid associate bonuses in December 2007 that ranged from $60,000 to $120,000, the same range as the previous year, because the firm’s financial performance was roughly equivalent to the prior year. A number of other large Texas firms paid associate bonuses ranging up to $60,000, $70,000 or $80,000 for high-performing upper-level associates, or even a bit more. THE HOURS Andrews Kurth, for instance, paid a special bonus above the firm’s regular performance bonus for a few associates who worked substantially more than 2,300 hours, which was the level on the firm’s bonus grid that would qualify an associate for a top bonus. The firm’s bonus payments, according to the grid, ranged from $5,000 for a lower-level associate working 2,000 hours to as much as $80,000 for an upper-level associate working 2,300 hours, says Jeffrey Spiers, a partner in Houston who is co-chairman of the firm’s associates committee. A year ago, Andrews Kurth associates could earn up to $60,000 in bonuses, but Spiers says the firm increased the overall level of bonus payments for 2007 work because of market conditions — competitors increased compensation — but also because associates worked hard in 2007. Baker Botts paid associate bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $77,500 in mid-December, says George Lamb, a partner in Dallas who is chairman of the associate compensation committee. “It’s all discretionary, but guided by three credit-hour levels — one at 2,000, one at 2,150, and one at 2,300,” he says. While many firms pay bonuses before year-end, giving associates cash for the holidays, other large Texas firms hold off until January or later as management figures out how much it will pay associates in bonuses. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld pays associate bonuses at the end of January, says Eliot Raffkind, the hiring partner in Dallas. The 1,023-lawyer firm will pay bonuses similar to those paid a year ago, but “we are still in the process of figuring that all out,” Raffkind says. Bracewell & Giuliani, where bonus checks are paid in February, has just begun the evaluation process, says Jennifer Weston, a partner in Houston who is the firm’s general counsel for professional development. She says billable hours are considered, along with quality of work and contributions to the firm and the community. Weston says the upper range of bonuses will increase this year to $72,500, compared with $50,000 last year, because some other firms also are paying higher bonuses. At Houston-based Vinson & Elkins, the firm was planning to pay bonuses on Jan. 15 ranging from $5,000 to $45,000, says Keith Fullenweider, a partner in Houston who is chairman of the associate evaluation and compensation committee. The bonuses are productivity-based, Fullenweider says, considering hours for clients and approved firm business. Up to 150 pro bono hours are included in the billable-hour total, he says. The bonus grid for 2007 work is the same as for the previous year, but associates’ total compensation improved after the firm increased associate salaries. In July 2007, V&E became the first large Texas-based firm to raise first-year associate base salaries to $160,000 to match the raises New York-based firms began paying earlier in the year. Other large Texas firms, although not all of them, followed V&E’s lead and moved to the new market pay rates for associates. “We felt that with the substantial increases in base compensation, we were comfortable with leaving our bonus amounts consistent with 2006,” Fullenweider says. “We made it clear back in July we were not going to pay more in base and less in bonus.”
Brenda Sapino Jeffreys is a reporter for Texas Lawyer , the ALM publication where this article first appeared.

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