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Just when you thought the associate salary wars were over, another few shots have been fired. California-based O’Melveny & Myers last week raised first-year associate salaries to $160,000 in their Washington, D.C., and California offices. The move came late last week, after Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s statement that same day that it was hiking first-years to $160,000 in their California offices. “Orrick’s move persuaded us that it was inevitable that the market was moving in this direction,” says Brian Brooks, a partner in O’Melveny’s D.C. office who is in charge of talent development. “We didn’t want to be even a day late. We want associates and the broader community to know that we aren’t laggards.” O’Melveny was also one of the first firms in D.C. to raise first-year salaries to $145,000 from $135,000 earlier this year in the first round of the salary wars. In January and February, many of the D.C. offices of New York-origin firms moved up to $160,000, while D.C. stalwarts and national firms moved up to $145,000. A notable exception was Orrick, which moved to $160,000 in both its New York and D.C. offices. Orrick announced last Thursday that it is hiking associates’ pay in all California offices, except Sacramento, to the $160,000 pay scale that most big firms adopted mostly in New York. “We decided to do it because we think it’s the right thing to do in the context of our market position and our commitment to being one of the leading law firms in the world,” says Ralph Baxter Jr., Orrick’s chairman and chief executive officer. The moves have sparked speculation that another round of raises may be on the horizon. Orrick, O’Melveny, and other big California-origin firms like Latham & Watkins, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher raised their New York associates up to the $160,000 level, but left their West Coast equals starting at $145,000 earlier this year. “I would expect that those types of firms would be the ones to consider it,” says Richard Gary, a law firm consultant with the San Francisco Bay area’s Gary Advisors. “But I don’t see all firms going up to 160.” Orrick will pay its San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and Orange County associates at the $160,000 scale, the same as in its D.C. and New York offices. “With the segmentation among law firms, the role of regionality becomes less and less important, and we find ourselves in more and more of a national market,” Baxter says. O’Melveny’s Brooks says the firm had been monitoring the market for salaries very closely in order to react nimbly to any movement. “For firms to be at the top of the profession, they need to be at the top of compensation as well.” Eric Bernthal, the managing partner of Latham’s D.C. office, said last Friday in an e-mail that he was not aware of any plan to match.
Zusha Ellison is a reporter for The Recorder , an ALM publication. Legal Times reporter Alexia Garamfalvi contributed to this article.

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