Friday, 30 October 2009

To Bonus Or Not, That Is The Question

It must be that time of year again. Following on from my comments in my last blog, and from an excellent posting by Peninsulawyer (see here for the post in question - I do recommend that you read it), there is a prominent news item today in 'The Lawyer" in connection with a bonus payment from Slaughter & May to  its staff (not, apparently, its partners). The web site reports that S&M will be paying fee earners a bonus in the amount of 5% of earnings while support staff will get 2.5%. 

The last lines of the reports state that the firm made an estimated £504m in the 08/09 financial year (yet again promoting an obsession with turnover - but that's a completely different rant) with average PEP thought to be about £2.25m. The suggestion is that S&M have had a bumper year and are being a little mean. "Roll on Friday" goes further. In a story marked "Exclusive" (which must be some sort of new meaning of the word since the story is in general circulation), RoF reports the "Some of the firm's lawyers are pretty hacked off... its associates are all flat to the boards".

I never thought that I would be an apologist for Slaughter and May, but I think that the firm might be displaying a little good sense here and that reports are choosing to ignore a few important facts.
  • As "Roll on Friday" does acknowledge that "...the firm didn't make any redundancies" - an important thing to note in the context of most other firms chopping posts with rather gay abandon.
  • A 5% bonus in a difficult economy is still pretty good - over £4,500 for a 3PQE lawyer
  • The firm is acknowledging support staff with a 2.5% bonus - perhaps less than they would like, but it's still a bonus payment.
  • Yes, S&M have announced a pay freeze for 2010 - but how many clients do you think would be happy to read about their lawyers profiting excessively in difficult times?
In my opinion, Slaughters seem to be trying to walk a narrow line between acknowledging the hard work of the staff, while remaining prudent with their cash - i.e. investing the future.

The sort of short-term thinking that sees a good 6 months and demands immediate bonuses is exactly the sort of thing that helped the economy into a mess. In an ideal world all bonus payments would be linked to productivity (both personal and firm) over a medium term period of time and would not simply look at a few good months or deals.

I think Slaughter & May staff should consider that they may be some of the lucky ones this year - they are in a sold firm, provisions seem to be in place for future investment and development, and they are getting a bonus when many lawyers in other firms will not.

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