Houston-based Susman Godfrey doesn’t do things in understated ways—not in the way it throws a party or the way it pays its associates.
At its annual holiday party in its New York office this month, the firm hired celebrity chef Daniel Boulud to personally cater the event. (Boulud is a culinary legend whose flagship restaurant Daniel was awarded three Michelin stars in 2010, though it has since lost one of the stars.) Besides fussing over canapÉs in the firm’s kitchen, Boulud mingled with guests and posed for selfies with his numerous gastronomical groupies.
“Daniel is a great friend,” says Bill Carmody, head of Susman’s New York office and one of the firm’s top rainmakers. “He flew in from Tokyo for our party,” adds Carmody, as if Boulud drops by to cook at the firm all the time.
But the real mouth-watering holiday treat at Susman is what it doles out to associates in bonuses.
So, without further ado, here’s the news flash: Associates who’ve been at the firm six years are bagging a minimum of $120,000 in bonus, maxing out at $140,000 for those who’ve put in super long hours. That’s a $20,000 to $40,000 surplus over what Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which sets the industry standard, is paying its most senior associates (graduates of 2009 and earlier years).
Out-paying Cravath (and all other major firms) to get prized associates has long been a Susman strategy. But unlike Cravath, Susman pays out bonuses based on length of service at the firm rather than class year. Here’s the bonus scale at Susman:
Six years at firm:
$120,000 to $140,000 bonus (verus $100,000 for class year 2009 and earlier at Cravath).
Five years at firm:
$105,000 minimum ($90,000 for class of 2010 at Cravath).
Four years at firm:
$95,000 minimum ($80,000 for class of 2011 at Cravath).
Three years at firm:
$85,000 minimum ($65,000 for class of 2012 at Cravath).
Two years at firm:
$65,000 minimum ($50,000 for class of 2013 at Cravath).
One year at firm:
$40,000 minimum ($25,000 for class of 2014 at Cravath).
As generous as Susman’s bonuses are, though, this year’s are not quite as sweet as they were last year, when bonuses peaked at $165,000. Carmody says 2016 “was not as good as last year.”
That said, the firm is hardly slowing down. One sign that it’s on a growth spurt: It elevated seven associates (out of eight who were put up) to partnership, a big number considering that the lawyer count there is around 114. “We had a huge class this year; it was one of the largest,” says Carmody. “Typically, two or three people come up. This year, we had at least one from each office.” (The new partners are: Matt Behncke, Amanda Bonn, Jordan Connors, John Lahad, Oleg Elkhunovich, Westin O’Black and Steven Shepard.)
And the partnership track at Susman is significantly shorter than most any other Big Law firm, reminds Carmody. He explained that on the firm’s seven-year partnership track, associates get one year of credit for clerkships, unless they clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court, in which case they get two years of credit.
The message that Susman is sending: Eat your heart out, Cravath associates.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the years of credit associates receive for judicial clerkships, due to inaccurate information provided by the firm.
Contact Vivia Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @lawcareerist.