Kirkland & Ellis Offers Associates $100,000 Bonuses
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Kirkland & Ellis’ 2014 bonuses were some of the highest paid to associates in law firms across the country.

Summary: Kirkland & Ellis’ 2014 bonuses were some of the highest paid to associates in law firms across the country.

According to Above the Law, in 2014, Kirkland & Ellis returned to its previous days of offering huge bonuses to its associates. In 2013, the bonuses were not as impressive as they once were, a separate article reported. Just as in many years past, even the associates with the lowest salaries receive better bonuses in 2014 than much of the market did elsewhere.


At Kirkland & Ellis, bonuses are individualized. They are based on hours, performance, and seniority. Additionally, performance is split into three categories, above class, with class, and below class.

The firm added a seventh corporate office in the United States in 2014.

One source said, “K&E bonuses are gigantic, generally 25 to 50 percent more than the Davis Polk scale, with some big billers even higher than that. This level of generosity was surprising, and people are elated.”

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Another individual said, “Associates are universally thrilled—Kirkland crushed the Davis Polk numbers. No one got lower than Davis Polk, and the vast majority got substantially more (many 1.5 times DPW). Top bonuses worked out to about 50% of base comp and exceeded six figures. I’m a mid-level with low hours but good reviews, got 1.25 DPW.”

Just how much did these associates pocket? One third year associate who billed over 2500 hours and earned an above-class rating took home over $100,000. Davis Polk bonuses for similar work came in at $50,000.

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However, not everyone agreed with Kirkland’s sparkling reviews. In response to the article, one senior associate contacted the writers, complaining, “Kirkland didn’t ‘shatter’ s**t…. Did they pay more than market? Yes. But it’s nothing like what it used to be. 2011 was the last truly good year for bonuses here as far as truly beating the market. In the last three years, my rating and hours have been very similar. Every year, my bonus as a multiple of NY market rate has gone down. This year I’m less than 1.5x. Back in the day, associates were getting multiples. 2x used to be a baseline. At least that’s what Kirkland presents itself as paying to law students. It’s hogwash these days.”

Read about the 2011 bonuses here.

The senior associate added that new associates’ unfamiliarity with the history of the market may have led to such a warm reception. The associate explained, “The tipsters you’ve heard from so far sound like a bunch of first / second / third years who don’t know what it was like back in the day. They represent the new culture, which I’m sure is exactly what the firm wants to happen. Get associates used to being just slightly above market (while still demanding extraordinary work at all hours). Profit.”

Information about the 2009 bonuses can be found in this article.

Of course, in response to the naysayers, another Kirkland & Ellis attorney piped up: “The complainers are probably lit associates. The Firm’s transactional practices (corporate, real estate, restructuring) totally murdered the competition this year in terms of deal activity, with many, many associates billing 2400 [hours]+. Litigation was (as it always has been) relatively slower on a per-associate basis, since there is relatively less lit work, there are so many more lit associates to go around, and some large lit projects slowed down this year.”

“All the transactional associates and non-share partners that I have spoken to have been very happy with their bonuses. Personally, I am a midlevel in Chicago and billed over [2500] [hours] and got well over [twice the DPW scale]. I know a number of transactional people who got 1.5x-2.0x (or more) than the DPW scale. Also, given how lucrative / higher-margin transactional work was, I wouldn’t be surprised that at least SOME transactional associates got a little bit more as a result of the very high margins in those departments relative to lit (which is much less lucrative for the Firm) (but that is pure speculation).”

According to that individual, most were “very, very pleased with their bonuses.” As the market recovers, Chicago Business predicts bonuses will only grow with time.

Source: Above the Law

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