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Associates at Susman Godfrey doubled their pay on Dec. 18. Partners in the 53-lawyer litigation specialty firm, which is having its best year ever, gave the firm’s 16 associates bonus checks equal to their yearly base pay. The hefty bonuses range from $114,000 for a lawyer who started at the firm in the fall of 1999 to $165,000, says partner H. Lee Godfrey. “We are in shock. We knew it was a good year. For them to share it like that, it’s amazing,” says associate William R. H. Merrill. “It’s already the best place to practice law, but to have the money on top of it is wonderful.” Stephen Susman says the partners wanted to share the wealth with the associates: “They’ve worked hard, and they’re deserving, and we’re having a good year.” The Susman Godfrey bonuses are far greater than the $40,000 year-end bonuses that a number of large, market-leading New York firms are giving their associates. Most everyone at Susman Godfrey shared in the wealth. Godfrey says staff also received large bonuses, with legal assistants getting as much as $75,000. Godfrey says the Houston-based firm had an excellent year, boosted by the firm’s 25 percent contingent-fee share of a settlement with Microsoft Corp. in an antitrust suit. Terms of the January 2000 settlement in Caldera Inc. v. Microsoft Corp. are confidential, but it has been reported at amounts ranging from $165 million to $275 million. But even without the money from the Caldera v. Microsoft settlement, the firm had a good year, Godfrey says. Susman Godfrey had profits of $31.4 million in 1999 on revenues of $44.6 million, according to Texas Lawyer‘s annual report on firm finance. IN SHOCK Susman says the partners thought about giving the associates luxury cars in lieu of some of the bonus money, but decided to go with cash. One factor in that decision, according to Godfrey, is indecision among the partners on what car to buy associates. Godfrey says all associates who have been with the firm for at least a year qualified for the big bonuses, which are about three-and-a-half to four times a normal yearly bonus. A lawyer who received a $114,000 bonus would normally receive about $30,000, he says. Even new lawyers who joined the firm this fall made out with $25,000 bonuses. In a normal year, they would have received $5,000, Godfrey says. Susman Godfrey has offices in Houston, Dallas, Seattle and Los Angeles. Not remarkably, Susman Godfrey associates say they were flabbergasted when they learned about their large bonus checks. Associate Harry Susman, Stephen Susman’s son, says the associates were expecting nice bonuses because the partners had been hinting about a big surprise, but he says he doesn’t think that anyone expected bonuses equal to a yearly salary. He plans to use the money to pay contractors renovating his house. Merrill, who has been at Susman Godfrey for two years, says he and his wife will buy a house. “I’m going to Vegas,” associate Joseph Grinstein says. After that, he will use his bonus money to pay off student loans and buy a new car. He says he gets a lot of ribbing from the partners about his 1993 Mercury, and partners suggested he use some of his bonus money to replace it. A new car also is in the future for associate Brian Melton, who plans to replace the Mazda truck that he’s been driving since law school. But, Melton says, “I’m not going to go crazy. I’ve got a wife in med school.”

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