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Year-end bonuses at New York law firms are peaking at $40,000 for first-year associates, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Atlanta firms will follow suit. Some of New York’s largest firms — Sullivan & Cromwell; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; and Davis, Polk & Wardwell, to name a few — announced the move earlier this year for associates from the class of 1999. But managing partners at Atlanta firms say they don’t expect a similar trend in Georgia. Arnall, Golden & Gregory managing partner William H. Kitchens says he thinks New York firms need to entice associates with large bonuses because of the long hours. “There’s got to be some attraction for people to go to New York because you don’t have much of a life,” says Kitchens. He says New York firms also must compete with high-paying employers in the city’s financial sector. Kitchens says Arnall Golden has no plan to restructure its bonus system in response. “We will, as we always do, evaluate our salary structure at the beginning of the year,” says Kitchens. “I do not anticipate anything resembling these kinds of bonuses.” William N. Withrow Jr., administrative partner at Troutman Sanders, says that considering the lower cost of living in the Atlanta area, his firm’s associate bonuses are commensurate with those of New York firms. “We pay some big bonuses here,” he says. This year, some associate bonuses are as high as $29,000, he says. “We’ll continue to monitor the developments here in Atlanta,” Withrow says. But he adds, “I wouldn’t think we need to make any changes.” Holland & Knight executive partner A. Summey Orr III says he had not heard of the bonus increases in New York. “We have a pretty significant bonus structure,” and adds that Holland & Knight has “no plan to change that.” Other firms say they have not decided on their end-of-year bonus structures. Robert E. Saudek, managing partner of Morris, Manning & Martin, says the firm’s associate bonuses are based on tenure. In 1999, the firm paid $2,000 per year of service with the firm, up to $14,000. Saudek says the firm has not decided if those year-end bonuses will increase within the next year. Edward J. Hardin, a member of Rogers & Hardin’s three-person management committee, says the firm still is determining bonuses. As to whether Rogers & Hardin will increase bonuses in response to the New York actions, Hardin says, “I don’t know.” Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart’s managing partner, Robert O. Sands, says he is aware of the rising associate bonuses in New York firms but does not anticipate responding. “I do not anticipate that we would, but . . . I am just one voice.” Hunton & Williams managing partner C.L. Wagner Jr. jokes that hearing of $40,000 associate bonuses in New York is “distressing.” Wagner says the Hunton firm has no plan to revamp its bonus system in the near future. The Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips, managing partner Roger K. Quillen says, will not increase associate bonuses as a response either. “We are absolutely not going to do any such thing,” he says. But, he adds, “I’d be foolish to say we’ll never respond to such a thing.” Quillen says the firm’s bonuses can reach $21,500 for an associate. The bonus is a percentage of the difference between an associate’s salary and the amount that clients are billed for an associate’s time. In addition, Fisher & Phillips provides discretionary bonuses for associates. When added to the formulary bonus, Quillen says, the combination can reach “somewhere in the range of $25,000.” Quillen says he is surprised by the high bonuses in New York this year. “I honestly don’t know why they’re doing this when you consider that dot-coms started this . . . and that the dot-com industry is now in trouble.”

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