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Associates at Cooley Godward and Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian are no longer the lowest paid among major Silicon Valley firms. Cooley and Gunderson gave associates pay raises in January, bringing them in line with other Bay Area firms and reducing the chances their lawyers will be lured to competitors paying a few thousand dollars more. The firms held first-year associates at $125,000 but raised the base pay for other class years, boosting fourth-year pay to $165,000 and bumping the seventh-year base to $200,000. Recruiters say the pay raises signal an improving climate for associates, especially corporate lawyers who bore the brunt of the technology downturn. Valley firms targeted corporate groups during successive rounds of associate layoffs in 2001 and 2002. “The markets are picking up and there are a few corporate associate openings in the Bay Area and we’ll continue to see more,” said San Francisco legal recruiter Avis Caravello. With local firms seeing a bump in transactional work, they’re starting to talk to recruiters about bringing in corporate candidates. Cooley and Gunderson are giving raises, Caravello said, “to protect themselves and their associates from being poached.” The threat isn’t just from other law firms in the Valley. Large technology companies have begun hiring more lawyers to bring more work in-house, said Julie Brush, a partner at Palo Alto’s Solutus Legal Search. “In this day and age, with companies hiring more, associates are attracted to exciting in-house opportunities,” Brush said. “It just gives law firms something else to rely on when competing against either larger firms or against companies.” The raises at the firms ranged from 3 percent to 13 percent. Cooley fourth-year associates earned $150,000 before getting a 10 percent raise, and seventh-year associates made $195,000 before getting a 3 percent bump. The firm gave the raises only to associates in the firm’s California offices, representing about 250 of the firm’s 300 associates. Cooley associates said they considered the raise a move by the firm to keep corporate talent in the fold. “It was kind of seen down here as a sign that demand for the corporate-side associates may be picking up and they want to protect the people from leaving,” said one senior Cooley associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mark Pitchford, Cooley’s chief operating officer, said the firm’s overall pay package was comparable to other firms because bonuses last year ranged from $10,000 to $60,000. “We had made decisions over the past couple of years to not adhere to what may have been perceived as market because our view is that ultimately, it’s about total compensation,” Pitchford said. “We felt absolutely competitive irrespective of whether we were paying at a certain level.” At Gunderson, fourth-year associates got a 14 percent hike from $145,000 and seventh-years saw a 5 percent raise from their base of $190,000. Gunderson sparked a national associate salary war at the height of the boom, when the 87-lawyer firm increased salaries by as much as 30 percent, pushing first-year pay to $125,000. But two years later the firm was trimming mid-level base pay as the tech slowdown wore on. Steven Franklin, a Gunderson Dettmer partner, said the partners had to wait to match the market until they could see the economy was on the upswing. “Going into last year, it was still not clear where the general economy was heading and we’ve always been a conservative firm and set salaries at a conservative rate,” Franklin said. “We didn’t want to go into the year needing an economic pick-up.” The move will also put the firm on firmer ground when it comes to recruiting. “I think everyone is preparing for an uptick in business,” Franklin said, “and as a result, wants to be able to recruit in this market and other markets in the country.”

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