Ed. note: Please welcome BigLawBoiz (“BLB”) to the pages of Above the Law. BLB will be writing about what associate life is like in Biglaw.
You spent the last 12 months hunched over at your kitchen table redlining documents and fielding Zoom calls, pretending you’re wearing pants and have showered in the last three days. You hardly saw the sunlight, and somehow in the midst of a global pandemic where the economy should be tanking you worked… more? Well, your bonus check finally cleared. You’re dipping your toe in the water to see what else is out there: greener pastures, work-life balance, more hands-on experience. You never thought you’d be in Biglaw this long. Most top out at the midlevel somewhere; it’s no secret that this is how the business model works. Lawyers and law firms bank on it.
Well, it looks like a lot of people got wise to that business model, all while the SPAC craze kept M&A and Capital Markets activities at all-time highs. Biglaw firms need their people, more than ever it may seem. Goldman Sachs caught the business end of the chainsaw when a few of their analysts very publicly complained they “work too hard for this shit.” Some Biglaw firms wised up and did what they know best: throw money at an issue and pretend it’s the same thing as respect.
These bonuses are significant. It is certainly a lot of money to give out to your team, and it makes sense — costs were certainly down. Firms don’t have an entire office, or multiple offices, to keep lit up 24/7 (you paid your increased utilities bill), the extravagant summer programs did not happen (instead of firm-sponsored lunch at Michelin-starred restaurants, you ate a string cheese and Gatorade), and revenues were flat, if not up across many firms. It’s good to see some of the wealthiest lawyers in the country spreading the love with their people who make the firms so successful.
However, let’s not mistake these as purely altruistic. The way these bonuses are structured scream “Please don’t leave us!” You get some now-ish, and some later. How much later? Well, wait until fall when we bring in a new class of associates. These bonuses will not be “free,” and I don’t think are meant to reward associates for the past work they have done, but rather to entice them to stay through what could, and likely will, be a grueling few months.
With vaccine rollouts and cases decreasing, the COVID catastrophe will at some point end. I’ve heard the rumors of back to office by July, or September. The far-off dreams of 2022 return seem to have been crushed underneath Joe Biden’s feet as he tripped up the stairs. If you thought you were busy last year, you better gear up for this year. It will continue to be SPAC-tacular! A true SPAC-tacle. When the money is free, can you really blame banks and law firms for getting in on the SPAC-tion?
Firms really can’t afford to lose you. They want to hire short-term staff and move associates from different groups into the hot spaces. They just need the manpower. You can stay. You will get worked like a dog. (Side bar, dogs work the least out of any animal. All dogs I’ve known spend their entire day sleeping. Bad idiom.) But you’ll get a nice little piece of change to make you feel special. You can buy things that fill the void in your life, I know those red bottoms and rollies are looking real right now.
So, you have to ask yourself: is it worth it? You may have been ready to leave, maybe take a modest pay cut, but regain some control over your life. Or do you double down on the golden handcuffs, spend the summer and leave when you get the “surprise” bonus? But wait, then the winter bonus is only a few months away… might as well stay for that too… Maybe the model has changed.
BigLawBoiz (“BLB”) is a Biglaw associate in New York. BLB anonymously runs a popular Instagram-based meme page which chronicles and mocks the most absurd facets of life in Biglaw, corporate America, and being a lawyer in general. Who is BLB? BLB be could be the associate who’s two doors down, could be you — there’s a BLB inside of all of us.