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Willkie Farr, first to announce 2021 special bonuses, matches going rate; will extra payouts continue in 2022?

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The law firm that was first to announce a second round of special bonuses has raised its payouts to match what has become the market rate.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher has raised its special bonus scale, paying a total of $12,000 to $64,000 split between spring and fall installments, Above the Law reports.

When Willkie Farr & Gallagher first announced its bonus schedule March 19, it planned to pay amounts ranging from $7,500 to $40,000, with the first half payable June 30 and the second half Sept. 30.

Then Davis Polk & Wardwell announced that it was also paying spring and fall bonuses that total $12,000 to 64,000. Several other large law firms followed, matching the Davis Polk amounts.

Now, bonuses at Willkie Farr will still be split between spring and fall, payable in these amounts, according to a memo obtained by Above the Law:

• Class of 2020: $12,000

• Class of 2019: $16,000

• Class of 2018: $32,000

• Class of 2017: $44,000

• Class of 2016: $52,000

• Class of 2015: $59,200

• Class of 2014 and senior: $64,000

Above the Law has this list of all the law firms that have announced special bonuses in 2021. The blog also kept track of special bonuses last fall, when many large law firms paid $7,500 to $40,000. Firms also paid year-end bonuses that typically ranged from $15,000 to $100,000.

The bonus news has Reuters Legal wondering whether the BigLaw bonus boost this year and last will outlast the market. Experts who spoke with the publication said it will likely depend on whether profitable conditions continue.

“If associates contribute to a banner profit post-pandemic, it would be natural for them to expect a banner bonus payment,” Altman Weil principal James Cotterman told Reuters Legal. “It all depends on how well they and their firms perform.”

Kent Zimmermann, a legal consultant at the Zeughauser Group, told Reuters Legal that law firms that paid special bonuses didn’t set a bonus floor that they will have to live with next year.

Still, he told the publication, it’s “unlikely that at high-performing firms associate comp is going to do anything but continue to go up.”

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