Before laboring to devise precise formulas for performance bonuses, D.C. law firms that are new to the task may wish to heed this lesson from local firms with experience: Bonus plans are always a work in progress. Used strategically, bonuses give law firm managers flexibility the right equation is not easy.

Set base salary too low, and recruiting new associates will be difficult, no matter how generous the bonus policy. Set base salary too high, and there will be less incentive for associates to work long hours.

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