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In a change of plan, Holland & Knight announced Tuesday that it is bumping salaries for first-year associates in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, Fla., from $105,000 to $120,000. That will include a $5,000 signing bonus. Holland’s move raises the ante for other major south Florida corporate law firms, which are paying $115,000 at most for entry-level associates. Only White & Case in Miami is known to be paying first-years $120,000. Holland’s move was unexpected, because major salary increases typically are announced around the start of a law firm’s fiscal year. Holland’s fiscal year begins on Jan. 1. At that time, the firm, which has 1,200 attorneys, had said it planned to stick with its $105,000 salary level plus $5,000 signing bonus in its south Florida offices, but that it would tweak its year-end bonus to make first-years eligible for a bonus of up to $8,000 based on billable hours. Firm leaders say Holland changed its salary structure after a national study of the market. “We conducted a review nationally in each one of our markets and made a decision as to where the market was on a salary basis,” said Adolfo Jimenez, the firm’s professional development and recruiting partner, who works in Holland’s Miami office. Jimenez said the purpose of the raise is twofold: “No. 1, the associates in this office are among the best that we’ve had in a long time, and we have a strong interest in retaining them and rewarding them. Secondly, we do want to be competitive, and we recognize that the cost of living in south Florida has increased incredibly.” Holland also is boosting salaries for its more-experienced associates, but Jimenez would not disclose the raise structure for them. “It sounds as if they looked at the market in the same way we did and decided to increase at least [the first year] level of compensation to meet the top of the local market,” said John Sumberg, managing partner of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod in Miami. “Firms at the top of the local market are bunched around this range.” The Holland raise follows a flurry of salary increases for first-year associates that occurred both locally and nationally at the beginning of this year. Prior to that, salaries for first-years had been mostly flat for a few years, after soaring in 2000 during the dot-com boom. Prior to this year, first-year associate salaries at major corporate firms were hovering around $105,000. Now firms such as Greenberg Traurig and Bilzin Sumberg are offering first-years $115,000 a year, plus bonuses. White & Case, a national leader in first-year pay, raised its salaries for Miami-bound first-years from $115,000 to $120,000 this year. Jimenez acknowledged that the timing of the salary raise announcement, five months into the 2006 fiscal year, is unusual. But the firm, he said, needed time to evaluate the market. “For salary increases, we look at our market on an annual basis,” he said. “We do that typically at the end of the year. We think this helps us as far as our market position. We don’t want to fall too far behind from where our competitors are.”

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