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For many Connecticut associates, keeping up with who’s paying what has become a major undertaking. Just a few weeks ago, Bingham Dana’s decision to raise first-year base salaries in its Hartford office to $95,000 a year, putting it in a tie with Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer as the city’s top wage-giver for new J.D.s, was being hailed in postings online at the Greedy Associates New England bulletin board. (The site’s address is http://www.infirmation.com.) But that title was quickly snatched away by the Hartford office of New York-based LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, which upped the ante to an even $100,000, according to its office administrator, Susan Crawford. (Both Bingham’s and LeBoeuf’s new salaries were made retroactive to Jan. 1.) Though they haven’t kept pace with the escalating amounts that out-of-state competitors are heaping on new lawyers in their Connecticut branch offices, large, locally based firms aren’t throwing in the towel, either. In December, Day, Berry & Howard, the state’s largest firm, increased its first-year annual base wage for Hartford associates to $85,000, according to hiring committee chairwoman Paula Lacey Herman. (Day Berry also raised its entry-level pay in Stamford to $95,000.) Those figures mirror salary hikes recently instituted at Hartford-based Shipman & Goodwin and New Haven-based Wiggin & Dana. In terms of base wages offered to first-years at large Connecticut-based outfits, those firms trail only Cummings & Lockwood, which, late last year, increased its base pay for raw recruits to $90,000 in Hartford and $100,000 in Stamford. Both amounts, however, include $5,000 deferred payments that new associates will only receive if they’re still employed there on Dec. 31. SUSTAINABILITY Though firms, no doubt, watch for signs of an economic downturn, those that have gone ahead with recent salary hikes say they aren’t worried about their ability to support the salaries should the economy falter. “We try to put our salaries at levels we think we can sustain,” said Day Berry’s Herman. The firm, she insisted, has never laid off lawyers for economic reasons and doesn’t plan on doing so in the future. Many members of this year’s partnership class — the largest in Day Berry’s history — joined the firm during the height of the last recession, she noted. And Day Berry, Herman added, wants to be in the position to continue hiring at current levels should it become a buyer’s market once again. Boston-based Bingham Dana is no less confident about the sustainability of its salaries, said communications director Hank Shafran. According to a Bingham Dana associate, the firm instituted its pay raise in response to the recent departures of three of its rank and file in Hartford. Shafran, however, said its decision to increase associate salaries wasn’t triggered by anyone leaving the roughly 80-lawyer office. Rather, “we’re paying what we feel we have to pay” to be at the top of the market in Connecticut, he maintained. The same goes for Shipman & Goodwin, according to Scott L. Murphy, chairman of its management committee. “We do what we think is reasonable under the circumstances,” Murphy said. “We are certainly hoping for a little more rationality in the approach to associate compensation,” he conceded. “But that,” added Murphy, “remains to be seen.”

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