How to handle a request by a business unit executive to reward a lawyer with a bonus

Some general counsel encounter a business unit executive who would like to give a bonus to a particular lawyer who has done excellent work for that unit. Such clear-cut client praise, of course, is wonderful, but if the general counsel manages a consolidated law department that has one compensation scheme, any individualized treatment contravenes that arrangement.

It is not good if lawyers who all report to the same chief legal officer get different bonuses depending upon the performance of various business or staff units. Poorly performing units, those most in need of legal talent, can’t offer bonuses. Then too specialty lawyers who spread their expertise across units won’t as often earn individual recognition than commercial lawyers who labor for a business unit (See my post of May 23, 2007: specialists can’t get bonuses based on business unit performance.). Those awards also shake the pedestal of lawyer objectivity (See my post of June 30, 2007: bonuses with 8 references.). The best practice is to pass on as much of the recognition and praise as possible but pool the funds for the entire department.

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