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Just 12 months ago, the idea of a large, Connecticut-based firm offering six-figure base salaries to its first-year associates seemed to be a far-off phenomenon. What a difference a year makes. Though none of the state’s biggest firms have broken that barrier — at least not in terms of base pay — three firms, Cummings & Lockwood, Robinson & Cole and Wiggin & Dana, have raised annual earnings for new lawyers in their Stamford offices to $90,000. For Cummings, which, unlike the other two firms, is headquartered there, the move is the most dramatic, and represents a $15,000 increase over its base wage for raw recruits in 1999. Among its large, in-state competitors, C&L also shares the spotlight with Wiggin in offering the highest regular first-year associate earnings in Hartford: $80,000, or at least $5,000 more in base pay than what the city’s three largest locally anchored firms — Robinson; Day, Berry & Howard; and Shipman & Goodwin — plan to shower their incoming associate classes with when they arrive in September. Exactly what new associates take home when factoring in bonuses, parking stipends and the like, however, is becoming harder and harder to pinpoint. In March, Day, Berry unveiled a new compensation package, under which its first-years in Hartford could earn up to $100,000 a year. To reach the six-figure plateau, a new J.D. joining the firm’s Hartford office this fall will have to receive a maximum-available bonus of $20,000 on top of his or her $74,000 annual base salary; a $5,000 signing bonus; and a $1,000 parking allowance, according to the firm. The only catch is that maximum bonuses available to each of the firm’s associate classes pertains only to associates billing 2,200 hours a year or more. Associates billing under 1,900 a year, meanwhile, are not entitled to any amount of extra money under Day, Berry’s enhanced discretionary bonus program. “IF, AND OR BUTS” William H. Narwold, Cummings & Lockwood’s managing partner, said it’s possible for first-years at his firm to receive bonuses of up to $20,000, though such instances are the “exception rather than the rule.” In addition, the firm, he said, contributes three percent of associates’ total compensation to individual retirement accounts that the firm provides on top of associates’ regular 401K plans. It is also considering the addition of a second bonus program that would be tied to associates’ productivity, Narwold added. Wiggin & Dana, however, sticks mostly with offering first-years straight base pay. “We try not to load [the firm's associate compensation package] up with a lot of if, and or buts,” said hiring partner Ian E. Bjorkman. First-years at Wiggin, according to Bjorkman, can earn bonuses up to $2,500, but not the five-figure amounts that other firms claim to offer And, unlike Day, Berry, the firm’s pay hikes do not coincide with heightened billable hour expectations, he said. Day, Berry hiring partner Steven M. Greenspan, however, pointed out that associates at the firm who don’t bill upward of 1,900 hours a year still are considered to be valuable contributors. A RETURN TO SANITY? But there’s no denying that increased salaries inevitably will produce heavier billable hour pressures. “I don’t think that any law student has completely lost sight of those issues,” said Stephen K. Gellman, hiring partner at Hartford-based Shipman & Goodwin. And, one of Connecticut’s main selling points over larger legal markets continues to be its generally lower work demands. “This is a saner environment. I think [law grads] appreciate that” as much as ever, Gellman maintained. “I don’t see [new J.D.s] being overly greedy,” added Glenn A. Santoro, Gellman’s counterpart at Robinson & Cole. C&L’s Narwold, for one, doesn’t foresee first-year salaries increasing at as fast a rate over the next year. “I think you may see a little more sanity come back into the market,” he predicted. CHART To see what new recruits are making at Connecticut’s largest locally based firms, click here.

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