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First-year associates in the Pittsburgh large-firm community will benefit from recent raises in salary, many of which have reached the six-digit range. The current crop of incoming associates in the city’s largest firms will be earning base salaries of approximately $100,000, equivalent to the amount the highest paid associates earn in blue chip firms across the nation. Leading the pack, Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll reportedly raised its associate compensation from $90,000 to $105,000 in six of its East Coast offices, including Pittsburgh. Other offices benefiting from the jump are Philadelphia, New York, Princeton, Washington, D.C. and Miami. Effective July 1, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart increased starting salaries $10,000 from last year’s rate of $90,000. Reed Smith and Klett Rooney have also recently increased their wages by the same amount. Representatives of all three firms said that the market was the primary factor in their decisions to raise first-year associate salaries to $100,000. Tom Reiter, co-chair of the associate committee at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart pointed out that while the salary is equivalent to what many Philadelphia firms are offering, the cost of living in Pittsburgh is lower than the larger, metropolitan east-coast cities. However, firm management felt that the raises were justified. “We attempt to keep our salary strategy competitive with our market to try and recruit the best talent we can in Pittsburgh,” Reiter said. Dennis Veraldi, chief operating officer of Eckert Seamans disclosed that the firm will pay its incoming associates $80,000. Veraldi said the somewhat modest increases it offered were based on what the firm determined was an appropriate starting wage and no attempt was made to keep up with what other firms were offering. He added that raises in client billing rates were an unacceptable consequence of matching the current base salaries. Spokespersons from Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and Reed Smith felt the firms had succeeded in recruiting highly qualified candidates who will fit well within the firm culture. Ginny O’Hare, firm administrator for Klett Rooney said that because the firm is hiring only a few new associates this year, it was very selective about whom it chose and was still able to find the candidates it wanted. THE INTANGIBLES Each of the firms said that while salary played a large part in attracting the caliber of associates that firms were interested in bringing on board, they also felt confident that they will retain them in the long run by other means. “We want to keep the good associates and the money can make them happy, but that is only one factor” said Jan Marks, hiring partner at Reed Smith. “In addition, we offer a challenging work environment.” According to Veraldi, Eckert Seamans did quite well in recruiting the six new candidates who will begin work there this fall. Veraldi said the firm provides a great environment for new attorneys, with a mentoring program and challenging work and added that the firm’s attrition rate has remained quite low due to the nurturing atmosphere. “If we lose an associate it’s because one of our clients has taken them away,” he said. “None of our associates left to work at another law firm.” Reiter said that Kirkpatrick & Lockhart uses internal as well as external resources for associate development and training. Also, the firm has become increasingly busy and the work that the incoming associates will be doing promises to be interesting and diverse. Nobody, he said, can anticipate which factors will compel associates to seek greener pastures, but the firm is doing what it can to address the issue. “Associate attrition rates are a regrettable fact of life in law firms throughout the country,” Reiter said. “However we’re pleased that we keep a very high percentage of our people.” O’Hare noted that although Klett Rooney has thus far had the good fortune to avoid a high-turnover rate, nevertheless it recently began re-evaluating its associate training and mentoring program and the firm has plans to put together a more structured program. Some of the areas where the firm has provided training in the past have been client development and support. Additionally, the program will provide associates with a thorough background in firm business practices. Management sees it as a way of producing more well-rounded attorneys while providing the associates with the quality of experience which encourages them to stay put. The general consensus is that law firm business has increased in Pittsburgh and two of the firms will be bringing more first-year associates on board than last year. Reed Smith has 15 incoming associates and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart has a roster of 25 starting in September. Though Reed Smith’s workload will be challenging — 1,900 hours for first-year associates — the billable hour “expectation” is just that, Marks said. It is not a requirement. An additional 50 hours would put associates in the pool for performance-based or profit-sharing bonuses. Klett Rooney’s O’Hare said that the firm has a guideline of 1,875 hours but that may be under consideration. Bonuses for additional hours would be evaluated on an individual basis. Anything over 1850 hours at Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, puts associates in the pool to qualify for a bonus. In an interview last month with The Legal Intelligencer in Philadelphia, Buchanan Ingersoll managing partner Steve Braverman said that the increased base pay the firm is offering does not replace the bonus system under which first- through fourth-year associates can earn up to $55,000 a year extra. A $25,000 bonus is based on reaching 2,250 billable hours and a second bonus of up to $30,000 is predicated on overall contribution to the firm.

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