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For years, New Jersey’s largest firms shrugged off the large salaries paid in New York and Philadelphia. That’s just fine, they retorted, for lawyers who want to suffer the tortures of commuting or the high costs of urban life. Except that now, first-year lawyers don’t necessarily have to make the trade-off. A sampling of eight of the largest out-of-state firms with New Jersey satellites shows they will offer an average of $101,625, including signing bonuses, which can be as high as $7,000. The range is $90,000 to $107,000. The eight New Jersey firms that will pay the highest beginners’ salaries offer an average of $94,375, including bonuses, the highest being $5,000. The range is $90,000 to $97,000. That’s an average difference of $7,250. The highest salaries to be paid by out-of-state firms are $107,000 by Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith and $106,000 by Philadelphia’s Duane, Morris & Heckscher. Three firms are tied at $105,000 — New York’s Herrick Feinstein, Boston’s Goodwin Procter and Philadelphia’s Blank, Rome Comisky & McCauley. In contrast, New Jersey’s top-paying firm, Sills Cummis Radin Tischman Epstein & Gross in Newark, N.J., will pay $97,000. Five firms are tied at $95,000: Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, N.J.; Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione and McCarter & English in Newark; Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch in Florham Park, N.J.; and Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith, Ravin, Davis & Himmel of Woodbridge, N.J. Of the firms that will offer stipends to all first-year associates to help support them as they prepare for the bar exam, bonuses range from $5,000 to $7,000 for outside firms and $2,000 to $5,000 in New Jersey. But the out-of-state firms are finding that money isn’t everything. Despite the pay gaps, Reed Smith’s New Jersey managing partner, Steven Picco, says his firm is constantly in competition with state firms to get the best new attorneys. “We don’t think there is a tremendous distinction between the larger New Jersey firms and us,” he says. “We consider ourselves a New Jersey firm.” Candidates will consider other important factors in choosing a firm, such as opportunities for advancement and quality of life, Picco says. Because the market for attorneys is still strong, relatively minor differences in salaries between the top firms won’t be enough to tip the scales as firms compete for qualified candidates, he says. And higher salaries also mean higher billable-hour requirements, Picco says. Reed Smith requires associates to log at least 1,850 hours. By contrast, Herrick Feinstein’s first-year associates are expected to deliver at least 2,400 total hours and admission in New York and New Jersey bars is mandatory, says managing director George Wolf. The required hours include time spent on pro bono work, marketing and other firm-related activities, he says. Some firms, like Herrick Feinstein, use a two-tiered pay system. Its New York City attorneys start at $130,000, Wolf says. And those pay scales are reflected in billing rates. “Our New Jersey clients do not expect to pay New York rates,” Wolf says. New York’s Windels, Marx, Lane & Mittendorf uses a standard pay scale. Billing rates are the same, says executive committee member Anthony Coscia. Even though salary is not the only factor, six figures can be a powerful lure for students graduating with a five-figure debt, says Debra King, director of career services at Seton Hall University School of Law. “The average loan debt of somebody graduating from Seton Hall is in the mid-$60,000s,” King says. “That’s significant. So how much they get paid is relevant to them.” Another benefit to working for an out-of-state firm’s satellite office in New Jersey is that the attorneys get the feel of a smaller office, backed by the resources of a large firm, King says. Despite the fervor over rising salaries, some firms insist on keeping their compensation rates secret. Robert Coleman, chairman of the New Jersey executive committee at Philadelphia’s Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman and Goggin, declines to disclose pay rates but says new associates do not start at the same base salary. The firm has 52 lawyers in New Jersey. Similarly, Pepper Hamilton’s New Jersey managing partner, Michael Mann, says only that its salaries would be “competitive” with other Philadelphia area firms. A recent National Law Journal salary surveyplaces Pepper Hamilton’s compensation at $85,000 to $100,000 as of last November. However, Mann notes that after recently consolidating with lateral attorneys from the former Jamieson Moore in Princeton, N.J., the firm has no plans to hire any first-year associates for its New Jersey office this year. The firm has 23 attorneys in New Jersey. Ultimately, the assortment of salary offerings spells more opportunity for young lawyers who can choose to go for the money or put other values first, says Dawne Smith, director of career services at Rutgers Law School-Newark.

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