BIGLAW

Top Law Firm Withholding Bonuses Unless Associates Do A ‘Marketing Project’

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Bonus season is behind us — well, for most of you — so I guess it’s time for firms to start imposing onerous restrictions on next year’s bonuses hoping that we won’t notice. Quinn Emanuel, who boastedgenerally happy associates this bonus season — took the first swing at its lawyers Wednesday afternoon, sending a firm-wide email introducing a new prerequisite for associates hoping to get their bonus next year: completing a marketing project.

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Encouraging young lawyers to participate in the growth of the business is good. Forcing every associate to take time out of their busy schedules to do PR work (which is, you know, not their actual job) on threat of robbing them of their bonus is not. This is one of those times where positive incentives would be far more appropriate. “Do a marketing project and we’ll kick in an extra grand.” Or maybe even give a small mid-year bonus to good firm citizens. Incentivize people who will select good marketing projects and do them well. What Quinn’s going to get instead are a bunch of half-assed projects from people who have no business doing marketing. It’s nice to think that every lawyer has a role to play in marketing, but the old adage about the House of Representatives applies to firms too: there are show horses and work horses. Let people play to their strengths.

But at least all the time spent on this project will count toward your bonus, right? Wrong. As the memo says, “Time spent on this projects will not be included in the 100-hour non-billable allowance towards bonuses.” Super! Seriously though, this is the most bizarre part of the new edict, because it’s not just slighting the associates, but it’s an entirely counterproductive move because it further incentivizes associates to find superficial projects and finish them in a slap-dash manner. Sure some lawyers are going to give any project their all, but the way this is set up, a lot of them are going to recognize this as a bureaucratic hoop they need to clear quickly and painlessly so they can get back to billing hours.

So what exactly is Quinn expecting of a marketing project?

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Oh good. I can’t wait to field all the requests from Quinn associates hoping to write a “newsletter article” for Above the Law.

As one might expect, Quinn associates are less than pleased. One tipster expressed the frustration thusly:

Because having one of the highest billable requirements in LA wasn’t enough.

Another explains:

Unlike firms that count “firm citizenship” or similar hours as bonus-eligible, at QE, you can forget about counting any time spent on this new requirement toward bonus-eligible hours. That said, your QE bonus is now going to be zero unless associates jump through this new hoop, no matter how much time is spent. And at QE, you can also forget about counting any currently bonus-eligible pitch you may have already done this year toward fulfilling this new marketing requirement. Hmm. Marketing = good. New QE proposal = half-baked.

That sounds about right: a really good idea and a seriously flawed implementation. In any event, good luck to Quinn associates fulfilling their newfound task. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re super psyched to see hundreds of primer updates!