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Cooley Godward associates will not be receiving a salary increase this year, the firm announced in an internal memo last week. Cooley Godward follows Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in deciding to keep associate base pay at year 2000 levels. Both firms have declined to match Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s recent $10,000 across-the-board salary hike. Following Brobeck’s Jan. 12 announcement that it was raising first-year base pay to $135,000, three firms followed suit: Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich, Pillsbury Winthrop and Perkins Coie’s San Francisco Bay Area offices. Cooley Godward’s decision could enable other large firms to nix salary hikes as well, recruiters and lawyers at other firms say. Several firms, including Morrison & Foerster and Fenwick & West have been taking a wait-and-see approach to increases. In deciding to keep salary levels constant, Mark Pitchford, Cooley Godward’s chief operating officer, said the firm considered the significant hike in salaries from 1999 to 2000 — first-year pay jumped from about $95,000 to $125,000 — and the competitiveness of the firm’s overall compensation package. “We feel at the end of the year that associates, special counsel and patent agents are more than competitively compensated for their contribution,” Pitchford said. In addition, he said the salary increases announced by other firms “are not so far up from last year that we couldn’t bridge that at the end of the year.” Associates also influenced the decision. “We talked to associates and got consistent input that [a salary increase] was not a must-do, morale-breaking decision,” Pitchford said. Several Cooley Godward associates confirmed that the general consensus among their colleagues is that current salaries are adequate, especially in light of generous year-end bonuses. “People would have preferred an increase, but I’m not hearing any discontent,” one associate said. “I think people are generally happier here. I would never leave here to go [to Brobeck] for $10,000.” Brobeck’s salary raise “is a negligible difference from an associate’s perspective when you look at total compensation,” another Cooley Godward associate said. “I would like to see [money] in the bonus pool rather than have it in salary.” Associates said bonuses for most attorneys ranged from 16 to 19 percent of base salary and for those exceeding expectations the increase was 20 to 25 percent. Pitchford said the firm doesn’t publish its bonus ranges. But, he added, “it sounds like you’ve got them.” Associates in Cooley Godward’s California offices got an additional 10 percent of whatever bonus they received in recognition of the higher cost-of-living in the Bay Area and San Diego. Cooley Godward bonuses are not tied to billable hours as they are at Brobeck and several other firms. In fact, associates said that many attorneys who billed under the firm’s 1,900 minimum billable target received a bonus. Like Wilson Sonsini, first-year base pay remains at $125,000, fourth-years earn $165,000, and seventh-years pull down $205,000. Other firms that have waited on the sidelines may be more likely to follow the example set by Wilson Sonsini and Cooley Godward. “I think we have concluded that Brobeck-initiated raises do not reflect our view of market reality for associate compensation,” Morrison & Foerster chairman Keith Wetmore said. “I don’t expect raises of that magnitude at MoFo.” Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, which led the wave of steep salary hikes in 2000, is among the firms waiting to see how the market shakes out. “Our salaries last year were higher than other firms” since base pay was guaranteed at $145,000, said Steven Franklin, Gunderson’s managing partner, in a recent interview. “At this point we’re going to see how the market unfolds.” Craig Johnson, managing partner of Venture Law Group, also said recently that associate compensation has “almost been a non-issue around here.” He added that VLG’s compensation level, which is tied to interest in the firm’s investment fund, is “10 to 20 percent over the current compensation that other firms offer.” Did Brobeck, Pillsbury Winthrop and Gray Cary jump the gun in boosting salaries? Recruiters don’t think so. “For firms like Pillsbury who are trying to reposition themselves it’s a good move,” recruiter Avis Caravello said. “It will help them recruit.” “Firms took a look at the effect on salary retention that the last increase had and it was pretty positive,” added recruiter W. Jon Escher. But Caravello noted that a lot of associates are relieved that some firms are not bumping up salary because they don’t want the accompanying pressure to bill. “The general consensus is that we don’t want to work in an environment where bonuses are tied to billable hours,” a Cooley Godward associate said.

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