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.

An associate's target billable hours are 1,900 a year. "We actually don't want them to have 2,100 or 2,200 hours because we are trying to avoid burn out. Unlike our larger law firm competitors, we do not have a built in attrition rate," Scherl said.

• At 75-attorney Phillips Nizer, year-end associate bonuses are based on their annual evaluations, their billable hours and nonbillable performance, said partner Martin Wasser. If they reach 1,850 billable hours, they generally receive a bonus.

Wasser declined to specify the range of bonuses at the firm. He said Phillips Nizer pays attention to the Cravath scale, but "we look at what makes sense within our own economic structure."

Also, every quarter, Phillips Nizer awards bonuses to associates based on business they bring, possibly up to 15 percent of the firm's realization. "We find it very helpful because it encourages associates, even at young levels, to be thinking about what business they can originate or what clients they can bring in," he said.

"Mid-sized firms are more oriented to a structure that is based on more individual performance," Wasser said. "They need to be more entrepreneurial, and because there's less institutional business, they're more interested in trying to encourage individual associates."

For those associates coming to Phillips Nizer from larger firms, Wasser said, "they recognize they may be making less overall, but the trade-off is, they may not be killing themselves working seven days a week."

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