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LOS ANGELES � This month’s decision by several top law firms to raise first-year associate salaries in California to $160,000 didn’t come without some hesitation. Last week, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe announced it would raise its California first-year salaries to $160,000 as of June 1. The announcement prompted several other firms � Morrison & Foerster, O’Melveny & Myers, Susman Godfrey, Latham & Watkins, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker and Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher � to make similar announcements this week. The latest round of raises comes nearly five months after several New York-based law firms raised first-year salaries in all their U.S. offices to $160,000. At that time, most of the major California law firms matched those salaries in New York but not in their other offices. “It was hard to pin down what the market was for the West Coast of the U.S.,” said Ralph Baxter, chairman and chief executive officer of Orrick. “We thought at the beginning of the year, the right call in the market for associates on the West Coast, in our segment, was at the rate we set for them. But as we watched the market, we concluded that that wasn’t really right.” Specifically, associates in California were taking jobs at higher-paying New York firms even though California firms were hiring more associates, he said. But he denied that the firm’s hesitation to jump to $160,000 had to do with whether associates deserved such high salaries. He said that salaries depend on a number of factors, such as potential contributions to the law firm and overall market dynamics in attracting and retaining the top talent in a region. Law firm clients, however, had a different perspective. In a survey released this week by Altman Weil, 58% of top general counsel at 38 of the 200 largest law departments at U.S. corporations called the $160,000 starting salaries “outrageous.” “The $160,000 just got everybody’s attention for a first-year associate,” said Dan Dilucchio, principal at Altman Weil. “Announcing $160,000 for someone who just walked out of law school is excessive.”

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