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Wilkinson Walsh Tops Big Law Associate Bonus Scale—Again

Dylan Jackson LAW.COM

Associates at the nearly four-year-old trial litigation boutique Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz will take home larger bonuses than their Big Law counterparts, as high-end litigation boutiques look to compete with Big Law for top talent.

This marks the fourth year in which the firm has exceeded the standard rate paid by Big Law.

Founding member and managing partner Brant Bishop announced to the firm Dec. 5 that first-year associates will be paid bonuses of $22,500, while senior associate bonuses will be up to $150,000, according to name partner Beth Wilkinson. The bonuses were first reported by Above the Law.

The bonuses are on the same scale as the previous three years and come in at a rate 1.5 times greater than the market rate set by Milbank in November.

“We have extraordinary associates who deserve to share in our firm’s success,” Wilkinson said in an email. “We pride ourselves on paying above market and have done so since we started the firm in 2016.”

Wilkinson, the 2015 American Lawyer Litigator of the Year, left Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to start the firm in January 2016 alongside five other Big Law partners. Former Paul Weiss partner Alexandra Walsh and former Munger, Tolles & Olson partner Sean Eskovitz are also name partners.

Eskovitz added that the additional compensation reflected the greater responsibility the firm’s associates handled in substantial matters.

Since its creation, the boutique has represented several high-profile clients, including former Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Bayer AG and Altria Group Inc.

Bonuses aren’t the only arena in which Wilkinson Walsh will go above and beyond Big Law. The firm paid well above market rate to hire two U.S. Supreme Court clerks in 2017, doling out hiring bonuses of $350,000.

“If we think they’ve got the talent and the work ethic to succeed, we are more than willing to pay the market,” Eskovitz told The American Lawyer at the time.

Wilkinson Walsh’s status as a high-end boutique may explain why the bonuses are so great, as the firm competes with Big Law for the same talent, said Nathan Peart, managing partner of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s associate practice group. Last year, high-end boutiques Selendy & Gay, Susman Godfrey and Kaplan Hecker & Fink also announced bonuses higher than the market scale.

“With litigation boutiques, there is much more flexibility around billing and the clients they work with compared to Big Law,” Peart said, noting that such boutiques are usually formed because of the conflicts with transactional clients in Big Law and not being able to do certain work. “With bonuses, they can be more aggressive as a strategy to keep talent retention high.”

The full scale for Wilkinson Walsh associate bonuses by year is as follows:

Class of 2019 — $22,500 (prorated)

Class of 2018 — $22,500

Class of 2017 — $37,500

Class of 2016 — $75,000

Class of 2015 — $97,500

Class of 2014 — $120,000

Class of 2013 — $135,000

Class of 2012 and earlier — $150,000

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