For 2007, beginning associates at top firms in New York and on the West Coast made as much as $45,000 in bonuses, in addition to $160,000 in base pay. But all that cheer in 2007 may become a distant memory, as the economy is looking increasingly uncertain. Only the strongest firms may be in a position to raise salaries or bonuses this year.

“There’s more concern out there now than there was in t he summer,” says James Cotterman, an attorney-compensation consultant with Altman Weil, Inc. “There’s more talk about a recession.” Financial results in 2007 were strong enough to support large bonuses at elite law firms, but subprime mortgage failures, high oil prices, unrest in the Middle East, and an enfeebled dollar closed out the 2007 economy with a whimper.