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As economic jitters increase, the associate compensation picture at the nation’s highest-paying firms looks eerily similar to the boom before the bust seven years ago. In 2007 the ration of bonuses to base salaries for first-year associates at big New York firms almost reached the levels of 2000�a year that precipitated a dramatic plunge in the bonuses that help to make associates’ punishing hours tolerable.

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.

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