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As other major law firms order layoffs and pay cuts, GrayRobinson is giving an average 8 percent raise to its associates. Pay raises were as high as 15 percent Tuesday, and 90 percent of associates received raises, said law firm president Byrd “Biff” Marshall Jr. The merit-based increases were decided on an individual basis. All support staffers at the Orlando, Fla.-based firm also are getting higher pay, he said. The raises were announced at a firm retreat last weekend. “It’s a very, very difficult market, but we’re pleased with how our firm is working,” said Marshall, whose firm recently broke into the Am Law 200 list of largest U.S. firms. GrayRobinson associates are doing a lot better than other employees in and out of the field of law. U.S. employers have budgeted for a median raise of 3 percent next year, down a half percentage point from the previous year and the lowest annual forecast since the survey began 25 years ago, the Conference Board, which reports on economic indicators, said Tuesday. Pay cuts for lawyers at firms in South Florida have been dramatic, as deep as 18 percent at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Ruden McClosky. When asked how his firm was able to provide raises while other firms are suffering, Marshall touted his firm’s focus on litigation and hiring restraint in the boom years. He said the firm did not over-hire during the good times and did not give big raises in recent years. Billing rates for associates also were kept at a reasonable level, so it did not drive away clients. GrayRobinson, which has chosen to focus exclusively on Florida, has a large concentration of middle-market clients and a heavy reliance on partners with significant books of business. It also has a higher ratio of partners to associates — an unusual model among law firms. The firm, which ranked 5th on the Review 100 list of the largest firms in Florida, has about 235 lawyers in 10 offices around state, including in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa and Tallahassee. Associate starting salaries at the firm are $95,000 to $105,000 depending on the office. Large firms have starting salaries in South Florida ranging from $120,000 to $160,000. GrayRobinson entered The American Lawyer magazine’s list of the nation’s 200 largest law firms by revenue at No. 199 with 10 percent revenue growth and 13 percent growth in its attorney count in the year ended August 2008. Law firm consultant Bill Brennan, a principal with Altman Weil in Newtown Square, Pa., said GrayRobinson’s raises fly in the face of legal marketplace trends. “Major law firms are all considering reducing associate compensation or at least halting increases in associate compensation as a result of the recessionary economy,” he said. But if associate starting salaries are below market price, raises would still keep compensation below the competition. Brennan suggested GrayRobinson could also have benefited from the recession with lower billing rates creating a higher value to its clients. “If that has caused them to pick up a lot of extra work in this very price-competitive marketplace, then it would be a very wise decision to increase compensation for associates because they would need to attract more associates and retain existing associates,” he said. Asked about the raises, Fort Lauderdale legal headhunter Abbe Mald Bunt said: “How wonderfully pleasant. How uplifting it is.” Bunt, who has placed attorneys with GrayRobinson, said the ability to give raises is a testament to the firm’s targeted growth efforts. She said she hopes it’s indicative of what’s to come. “It’s hopefully the start of the turnaround, of the reversal of the pendulum,” Bunt said. Other law firms have taken a markedly different path. Miami-based Akerman Senterfitt announced in July that the firm was cutting associate pay by 10 percent to avoid job cuts. Also in July, Holland & Knight cut associate pay by an average of 7 percent, and as many as 50 South Florida associates lost as much as 10 percent. In a statement at the time, managing partner Steve Sonberg noted, “The legal profession has experienced a significant decline in demand for services during the past year.” He said Holland & Knight, like other firms, was working to manage expenses.

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