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Firing the first shot in this year’s round of boom-year bonuses for big-firm associates, New York-based Sullivan & Cromwell has handed out a whopping $35,000 bonus to its first-year associates in the class of 1999. On top of Sullivan’s first-year annual salary of $125,000, the bonus — which is not tied to any specific billable hour requirement — will boost the guaranteed compensation for first-year lawyers at the firm to $160,000. The bonus was announced in a memo delivered to Sullivan attorneys on Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by the Law Journal. In it, the firm describes the bonus, which will be paid in December, as a token of appreciation for associates at the end of an exceptionally busy year. “We hope that these bonuses will serve to express in part the deep appreciation of the partners for your efforts and the personal sacrifices you have made to meet the demands of our practice,” the memo read. The communiqu�, signed by managing partner H. Rodgin Cohen and partner Benjamin F. Stapleton, said that all other associates and special counsel at the firm would learn the amount of their bonuses at their regular year-end reviews. Sullivan also was the first firm to check in with a boom-year bonus last October, with a schedule of payments that ranged from $5,000 for first-year associates to $20,000 for sixth-year attorneys. More than a dozen New York firms followed suit with bonuses at the $10,000 level for first-year associates. But that was before a mid-winter salary war that boosted the going rate for starting salaries at big New York firms from $110,000 to $125,000. With firms still awash in work and desperate to retain their associates, Sullivan’s move seems likely to spark a flurry of bonus announcements from the competition. The action by Sullivan is further confirmation that the boom-year bonus, once a surprise reward, has become an expected component of associate compensation. The memo makes it clear that law students interviewing with the firm have been eager to learn everything they can as they compare firms’ pay structures. “We are announcing the amount of the first-year bonus at this time,” the memo explained, “because we have received an increasing number of requests from applicants for information regarding the total compensation first-year associates receive in their first full year with Sullivan & Cromwell.”

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