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While Long Island, N.Y.’s highest first-year associate salaries are a full 50 percent lower than New York City numbers, the Long Island-based firms contend it’s a Big Apple-to-oranges comparison. Starting salaries for the notoriously tight-lipped Long Island-based firms currently reach as high as $70,000, a sharp contrast to the $140,000 first-year associates are snagging at the largest firms in the city. The highest paying Long Island-based firm is the boutique practice of Rains & Pogrebin, which starts its first-year associates at $70,000, according to partner John Bauer. Rains & Pogrebin’s number-one position was confirmed by the career planning offices at Hofstra University School of Law and Touro Law School. The Mineola-based firm, with 20 attorneys, focuses on employment law defense. The Island’s largest law firm, Uniondale’s Rivkin Radler & Kremer, with 138 attorneys, pays its first-year associates $62,000 with a bonus system “based on merit,” said Managing Partner Bruce Drucker. Cullen & Dykman, with 52 attorneys on Long Island and 106 nationally, pays $60,000 to beginning lawyers, according to Touro and Hofstra’s figures. The Garden City-based firm declined to comment on starting salaries. Certilman, Balin, Adler & Hyman, Long Island’s second largest firm with 67 attorneys based in East Meadow, doles out roughly $54,000 to first-year associates, according to information provided by Managing Partner Bernard Hyman. Starting salaries equaled “say, $45,000″ two years ago, Mr. Hyman said, and have increased “about 20 percent” since then. Farrell Fritz, with 65 attorneys, and Ruskin Moscou Evans & Faltischek, with 50 attorneys, also declined to reveal their starting salaries, but a spokesperson for Hofstra said the firms hire first-year associates at “about $60,000.” Of note is Nixon Peabody, the firm formed last year with the merger of Rochester-based Nixon Hargrave Devans & Doyle and Boston-based Peabody Brown, which has 11 offices in the Northeast. That firm’s Garden City office, with 37 lawyers, starts its associates at $80,000, with a $5,000 signing bonus. RIPPLING WAGES The mean first-year associate pay on Long Island totals $40,000, according to the schools, well below the $96,000 figure for incoming first-year associates at New York City firms last fall, according to figures provided by the Washington, D.C.-based National Association for Law Placement. And while local firms assert it is flawed logic to compare Long Island to New York City, they concede a connection. “It constantly makes you reconsider your salary structure in order to attract talented people,” said James Wicks, a partner with Farrell Fritz. Mr. Wicks said his firm has not experienced “an exodus of people going to the city,” but has seen “a couple” of associates defect to higher paying New York City practices. Rains & Pogrebin, which lost an associate last month to New York City-based Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, said it keeps an eye to the west when determining salary hikes. “I can’t say that pay was the only the reason (the associate left), but it didn’t hurt that he was getting a lot more money,” Mr. Bauer said. Still, Long Island firms have not engaged in knee-jerk reactions to the salary wars in the city. Rivkin Radler, Farrell Fritz and Certilman Balin each plan compensation reviews on their usual annual dates, though burgeoning city salaries will be part of the equation. “We’re not trying to compete with New York City,” Mr. Drucker said, “but we consider everything.” IN A DIFFERENT CLASS One major difference Long Island firms point to as they debunk salary comparisons with New York City is size. With the Island’s largest firm totaling 138 attorneys, local practices typically do not hire large incoming classes — Rivkin Radler’s equaled six last year — nor do they declare a standard rate for those recruited. “It really depends on what their background is,” said Mr. Wicks, with Farrell Fritz. While the small groups of top graduates and law review editors flock to the city seeking their fortunes, Long Island firms recruit a mosaic of J.D.s who comprise the vast majority of law school classes. As such, moot court winners from Touro and graduates with hands-on work experience from Hofstra, for example, may command different pay scales, which defy pigeonholing. Certilman Balin, according to Mr. Hyman, is unconcerned with whether a graduate “comes from Harvard or Touro,” as long as the applicant possesses the drive and personality that will mesh with other firm members. DOT-COMPETITION Another distinguishing trait, local firms maintain, is the absence of dot-coms vying for tech-savvy associates. Recent pay raises in the city, which sent starting salaries spiraling in the first quarter to as high as $140,000, was sparked in large part by a 90-lawyer boutique firm from Menlo Park, Calif. When partners with Gunderson Dettmer Stough Velleneuve Franklin & Hachigian last year boosted salaries to discourage associates from fleeing to dot-com startups in Silicon Valley, other California firms followed suit. The East Coast jump occurred when San Francisco-based Brobeck Phleger & Harrison raised salaries for its newcomers, including associates in New York City. A flurry of increases ensued and in March, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom upped the ante to $140,000. “The irony of the whole thing is that very few firms are losing associates to dot-coms,” said Paula Patton, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. Instead, Ms. Patton noted, the salary wars initiated by dot-coms have turned inward, as law firms armed with big money battle each other. The downside to all that cash? Earning it. Young associates pulling in hefty starting salaries are expected to bill around 2,400 hours per year, according to Ms. Patton. Rivkin Radler first-year associates, by contrast, bill about 2,000 hours, Mr. Drucker said. Associates at Rains & Pogrebin bill an average of 1,900 hours, according to Mr. Bauer. PAYBACKS The best justification Long Island firms have in defending their relatively low salaries is the quality of life that lawyering on the Island affords. The trade-off, according to Ms. Patton, goes a long way even for recent graduates shouldering heavy student loan debt. Asserting that law firms in “every city across the country” have been influenced by the salary wars, Ms. Patton said that those practices offering a balance can successfully recruit talent, despite less pay. In addition to more relaxed billable hour requirements, Long Island firms hire associates anticipating that they will make partner, Mr. Hyman said. “They’re not just a number. If they work hard and become good attorneys, they can have an expectation of becoming a partner,” he said. “In New York City law firms with classes of 25 to 75 new law graduates, there’s no such expectation.” Moreover, firms on suburban Long Island allow working couples to jointly raise children by enabling the lawyer-spouse to have time with family. “We also offer an opportunity to have a life,” Mr. Drucker said.

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