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The early days of the associate-salary war resembled the frenetic call-and-response often found at a D.C. go-go concert. (Hogan, let me hear you!). And so, too, did the heavy rhythm and drumming coming from District firms wanting to be seen and heard rising to a challenge to prove they have muscle in the market. But in the second week after Hogan & Hartson and O’Melveny & Myers established a $145,000 target for paying first-years, the audible response waned. But only briefly. Then, in a Friday afternoon cacophony, several firms, such as Arnold & Porter; Latham & Watkins; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and Sidley Austin, shattered the deafening silence. For most of last week, California-based Latham and Gibson (which last year was one of the first firms to raise salaries) had been hunkered down in a Cold War-era game of Mutual Assured Destruction, waiting for the other to launch first. Then on Friday Latham struck, hiking starting salaries up to $145,000. Within minutes, Gibson matched; just a couple of ICBMs passing in the sky. Several D.C.-based firms, including WilmerHale, Covington & Burling, Steptoe & Johnson, Patton Boggs, and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, also bumped pay, all matching the first-year number of $145,000. What’s driving the action — and, conversely, the inaction — depends on the “market,” which firms define as a confluence of practice, city, and competitor pay. For instance, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner (which has yet to move its first-years’ salary from $135,000) is certainly keeping an eye on what everyone is doing, but most important in their worldview is what other IP firms are paying, putting Fish & Richardson’s raise to $160,000 squarely on their radar. Of course, the major firms who haven’t moved are becoming more conspicuous: Dickstein Shapiro, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Wiley Rein, Crowell & Moring, and Howrey. All are local powers and stalwarts on the Legal Times D.C. 20. Dickstein Chairman Michael Nannes says he’s confident the firm will change its starting number to $145,000 and make it retroactive. And rest assured that it’ll be done with all the attendant clamor.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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