Bonuses Spread to Associates at Midsize and Small Firms

, New York Law Journal

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Steven Sladkus
Steven Sladkus is a partner at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, which created a merit-based system for awarding associate bonuses.

"We do attract great talent to our firm and in being able to continue to do so, we have to pay attention to those statements and those numbers," Sladkus said.

• John Langan, managing partner of Syracuse-based Hiscock & Barclay with 200 attorneys, said associate bonuses are not tied to his firm's financial performance.

"They don't share in upside, so they shouldn't be punished in the downsides," Langan said. "If there was a down year, the last person you want to take it out on is a performing associate."

Associates at Hiscock & Barclay are not eligible for a bonus in their first couple of years. "We want our lawyers interested in getting integrated," Langan said.

Mid-level associates can receive bonuses up to $15,000. Senior associates can receive up to $25,000 and counsel up to $35,000, he said. Langan said the bonuses are generally higher than at other upstate regional firms, a competitive advantage in recruiting. The firm's starting salary for first-year associates is around $85,000, he said.

The floor for bonuses in all ranges is zero, Langan said, because asociates have to meet certain targets to be eligible. Those targets include quality of lawyering, client service, teamwork, client feedback and financial metrics such as billable hours and fees collected.

The billable hour goal for starting associates in their first two years is 1,700, which can include pro bono work and shadowing, he said.

More than half of the firm's associates received year-end bonuses in 2013, Langan said. "We can't compete on money but we can compete on experience and the training you get," he said.

• Morrison Cohen, a 90-attorney firm, awards year-end bonuses based on an associate's performance as well as the firm's own. The firm also provides associates 20 percent of fees from any business they originate as encouragement to build their own books of business, firm chairman David Scherl said.

With base salary, merit bonuses and business bonuses combined, the total compensation is more than competitive with large firms, Scherl said. "In many instances, our associates can find themselves getting paid at greater aggregate levels than they received at their predecessor large firm employers," Scherl said, declining to confirm his firm's bonus range.

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