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Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is rethinking its bonus structure for 2002 as it continues to wrestle with the slowdown in corporate work. One possible scenario calls for setting a minimum billable-hours target to qualify for a bonus, a move not popular among associates. Linking billable hours to associate bonuses would also be a first for Wilson Sonsini. The firm pays out quarterly productivity bonuses to associates with big billables in a given quarter, but the firm doesn’t use hours as a year-end measure of performance. Courtney Weber, Wilson Sonsini’s spokeswoman, confirmed that managers are working on the firm’s associate bonus program, but she said they haven’t made any final decisions. The firm’s fiscal year ends Jan. 31 and bonuses are typically paid in February. However, Weber hinted that minimum billable targets could become firm policy: “Quality is always our first measure, but productivity will also be taken into consideration,” Weber said in an e-mailed statement. Bonuses are a big issue for associates at the firm because they can provide a lucrative boost in annual income. Last year, a top-performing eighth-year associate could pull down as much as $43,000 in year-end bonuses. That’s on top of quarterly productivity bonuses the firm pays out. Wilson associates earn $125,000 in base pay their first year and up to $205,000 in their seventh year. Some associates said they are miffed the firm would institute a baseline billable target during a year when hours were hard to come by, particularly in the corporate groups. According to associates at the firm, one scenario proposed by management designates 1,900 as the minimum billable-hour requirement to receive a full bonus. Associates who bill less than 1,750 get nothing while lawyers who log more than 1,750 but less than 1,900 qualify for 25 percent of the target bonus for their level of performance. It’s not uncommon for law firms to require minimum hours targets. Many in the San Francisco Bay Area require associates to bill 1,900, and others demand at least 1,950 hours. But Wilson Sonsini associates, speaking on the condition of anonymity, complain their firm didn’t reward them when profits spiked during the dot-com boom. While partners reaped record profits, they refused to pay out boom-year bonuses on top of the regular quarterly and year-end bonuses to associates. Associates contend that managers would not alter the firm’s fixed bonus pool, which is based on a percentage of the firm’s annual profits. Associates interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday said the bonus pool generally is about 10 percent of the firm’s overall profits — or about $12 million based on Wilson Sonsini’s 2001 net income. In January, Wilson Sonsini did contribute an additional $1.5 million to the regular bonus pool for 2001, but that coincided with the firm’s announcement that it wasn’t giving raises in base pay.

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