Baker McKenzie Ushers In Year-End Bonus Season

By Justin Wise
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Law360 (November 12, 2020, 2:27 PM EST) -- Baker McKenzie set in motion the 2020 year-end bonus season this week, informing U.S. associates that they could receive up to $100,000 in one-time payments and that its offerings could increase if other law firms set their scales higher.

The bonuses will range from $15,000 for associates who have been with the BigLaw firm since 2019 to $100,000 for those who have worked for it since 2012 or earlier, Baker McKenzie told Law360 on Thursday. It marks the first announcement from a major firm about its 2020 bonus scale.

"The firm would like to express our sincere appreciation for our associates' hard work on behalf of clients and also for navigating the many personal and professional challenges brought on by COVID-19," the firm's North America CEO Colin Murray said in a statement.

A memo from Baker McKenzie said it would ensure its "bonus scale matches any increases in the market should they occur." The firm is also planning to "additionally reward" some top performers whose practices were impacted by the economic downturn.

In addition to the bonus announcement, Baker McKenzie said that salary cuts instituted in the spring because of COVID-19 are now slated to end Nov. 30, a month ahead of schedule. The firm in April cut salaries for attorneys and business professionals by as much as 15% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.

Baker McKenzie, the 60th largest law firm in the U.S. per the Law360 400, reported in late October that it earned $2.9 billion in global revenue for the fiscal 2020 year ending June 30, amounting to a 1.2% jump from the previous year.

The firm said the figures represented a "flat year." However, global chair Milton Cheng said in a statement that it recorded a "reasonable set of results, given the economic and logistical headwinds we have faced since January and the softening of demand we saw in the final quarter of FY20."

"Despite the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and the decline in economic activity in many parts of the world, Baker McKenzie is heading into FY21 with confidence," Cheng said, citing its investments in technology and new services centers.

Baker McKenzie was one of many BigLaw firms in the spring to implement austerity measures as the industry braced for a potentially significant decline in demand. In early September, the firm also laid off an undisclosed number of lawyers and staffers in its North American offices.

Several BigLaw firms, including Hogan Lovells, Baker Botts LLP, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP and Nixon Peabody LLP, have paired salary restorations with layoffs in recent months.

A divide emerged this fall among large firms when it came to bonuses, with some electing to dole out special payments because of the pandemic and others announcing that they would stick to traditional year-end structures.

Davis Polk & Wardell LLP, Milbank LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and Latham & Watkins LLP were among the firms that offered "special bonuses" in the fall. Davis Polk in mid-September set a scale used by some other firms, handing out between $7,500 and $40,000 in bonuses based on seniority. Baker McKenzie did not publicly say whether it offered fall bonuses.

--Additional reporting by Aebra Coe and Xiumei Dong. Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

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