Mike Kennedy’s phone rang about three minutes after Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian announced the associate pay raise heard round the world. Since he’d left Gunderson three weeks before, Kennedy had not felt any pangs of regret. He’d been plenty busy at his new job as general counsel of a Silicon Valley high-tech start-up. Then he got the phone call — from a friend at Gunderson informing him that he had just walked away from a $60,000-a-year increase.

Kennedy, like most people in and out of the firm, had no idea that Gunderson would make a salary move of that magnitude — boosting first-years to $145,000, including a $20,000 guaranteed bonus. After all, Gunderson was only a five-year-old, 90-attorney boutique firm with headquarters in Menlo Park, California. But the move touched off a rash of frantic salary jockeying, forcing even New York-based law firms to match Gunderson’s base pay.

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