A few years ago, most of California’s premium midsize firms lined up to match big firms’ top pay for young lawyers. Now, even as some of the biggest firms have begun to slash salaries, many midsize firms claim to be sticking with $160,000 — though there are some exceptions.

San Francisco’s 96-lawyer Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, which matched the market in 2007, says it last month trimmed roughly 10 percent off salaries at all associate levels. Less than three months before, Allen Matkins, a Los Angeles-based firm with about 200 lawyers, went back to paying first-years $145,000. As the downturn continues to reshape the legal landscape, others are mulling change too. Leaders at San Francisco intellectual property shop Townsend Townsend and Crew and at Los Angeles’ Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro say they may back off from the top market rate before the year is over.

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