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Associates at Latham & Watkins — at least those in Southern California — are feeling a bit low. The firm, widely considered among California’s most prestigious, received unusually poor marks in the America Lawyer’s annual survey of midlevel associates, published in the October issue. Associates are apparently unhappy with the firm’s bonus system, and dinged both the San Diego and L.A. offices in that and other categories, pushing the firm close to the bottom in those markets. In San Diego, only seven associates — a third of the office’s third- and fourth-year lawyers — responded to the survey. But the message was clear. They ranked their benefits and compensation a 1.83 — out of a possible five points. Over at Cooley Godward, San Diego associates ranked pay a 4.2. The seven Los Angeles associates responding to the survey put their satisfaction with pay at 3.29, but overall, the L.A. office stood at 18th out of 19 firms surveyed in that city. The scores for the firm’s S.F. office were higher than most — fifth out of 19 firms surveyed in the Bay Area market. Some Latham associates reached by The Recorder said they were happy, and most said they enjoyed the work and the people they worked with. But some think the firm should be paying more than other AmLaw 100 firms. “We work above-market, but we get paid the same,” said one California associate, speaking on condition of anonymity. A former associate in San Diego spoke of leaving Latham for another California firm because of insufficient training and friction with partners. “There was an us-versus-them mentality,” said the associate. John Sherrell, a partner who chairs Latham’s associates committee, said the firm was taking complaints seriously. “Even if seven attorneys isn’t a significant number, we find that it’s significant that any number of associates would have these concerns,” he said. He added that his committee, which regularly monitors associate perceptions, was aware some individuals were dissatisfied in the last round of bonus awards. Others were satisfied, he adds. The committee continues to talk to its associates and works to determine if compensation at Latham is inadequate. “If we conclude that it is,” Sherrell said, “we will make sure our compensation is where it should be.” Associates said the firm no longer publishes bonus ranges, making it harder for them to know where they stand. Sherrell said that Latham instead provides associates with data on average bonuses and the top bonuses in each associate class. He said the firm used to provide ranges, but it became hard to describe intangible factors such as the quality of work without revealing the identity of individual recipients. A spokeswoman for the firm said that firmwide, bonuses topped out at $85,000 last year.

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