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Firing a pre-emptive shot in the law firm salary skirmishes, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner has raised pay for its junior and midlevel associates. Effective Jan. 1, the Washington-based intellectual property boutique is bumping base salaries for first-year associates from $125,000 to $135,000. Those in their second year will move from $135,000 to $145,000. Third- through sixth-year associates will see a raise of $5,000 in their base pay. “We always look at the market, and we sensed that perhaps there’s a trend at some firms to go north,” says Finnegan Chairman Christopher Foley. “It’s been awhile since we increased.” The move puts 300-lawyer Finnegan’s salaries for first- and second-year associates in line with those paid by rival IP boutique Fish & Richardson. The new pay scale pushes Finnegan base salaries above those paid to IP associates at general practice firms like Howrey; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; and Jones Day, where base pay for first-year associates has stayed level at $125,000 for five years.
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The raises will increase pressure at those and other big firms to rework their junior-associate pay packets. Howrey was among several D.C.-area firms to raise salaries for senior associates this summer. “It’s going to be difficult to stay competitive for the best junior IP candidates if their salaries are not equal to those leading the market,” says Daniel Binstock, a recruiter in the D.C. office of BCG Attorney Search. “Traditionally, a lot of people view IP as its own special subset of the market. But as most general practice firms have incorporated IP practices, it’s harder to distinguish it from most other practices of law.” The last major increase at Finnegan, Foley says, occurred when most large law firms raised first-year associate salaries from $95,000 to $125,000, at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000. Salaries for junior lawyers at America’s largest firms have remained fairly flat since then, even as pay for partners has grown steadily. Earlier this fall two Los Angeles-based general practice firms, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges and Irell & Manella, raised starting salaries to $135,000. No other large general practice firms have followed, though Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom remains above market at $140,000 for first-year associates. Joseph Conroy, partner in charge of Cooley Godward’s Northern Virginia office, says that his firm expects to decide whether to raise associate salaries before the end of the year. “It’s under review,” he says. “We haven’t made a decision yet.” Base pay for midlevel associates at Finnegan is structured as follows: third-years, $155,000; fourth-years, $170,000; fifth-years, $185,000; sixth-years, $200,000. Pay for seventh- and eighth-year associates remains steady at $210,000 and $225,000, respectively, though Foley says that those associates are eligible for bonuses as high as $65,000 to $75,000. Foley says he did not consult with other law firm managing partners before making the move. “We’ve been flying solo,” he says.

Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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