The anxiety in Ronald Beard’s voice was hard to miss. Beard, the chairman of Los Angeles’s Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, was hearing daily — hourly even — from associates with news of all of our lawyers to let them know we aren’t ignoring the situation.”

At press time in mid-February, Beard was still agonizing over how much to pay Gibson, Dunn’s associates. In the last two months he — and pretty much every other managing partner in the country — has watched as a 30 percent spike in associate compensation offered by a Palo Alto high-tech boutique spread like a virus from Silicon Valley to San Francisco to New York, Boston, and beyond. Every day in February, it seemed as though was posting news that another firm had succumbed, jacking up salaries to meet the competition. With every posting, the firms that, like Gibson, Dunn, hadn’t yet decided what to do squirmed more uncomfortably.

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