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While last week’s announcement of hefty interim bonuses at one of New York’s largest law firms — coupled with word of pumped-up first-year pay at four Philadelphia firms — may be an indicator of good things to come for associates, it does not yet appear to be inspiring copycats. Sullivan & Cromwell announced it is giving first-year associates $10,000 and its senior associates $20,000 as interim bonuses. At the same time, three Philadelphia-based firms — Pepper Hamilton, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll and Duane Morris — and a fourth with a large Philadelphia office, Reed Smith, decided to boost starting pay to $115,000. Although an announcement of increases in associate salaries by one or two of the country’s top firms historically sets off a game of follow-the-leader among competing firms on both coasts, many appear to be proceeding with caution — at least for now. New York’s Cravath Swaine & Moore, with 471 attorneys, said it would wait until the end of the year to make a decision about whether to increase salaries, according to presiding partner Robert Joffe. Cravath Swaine and New York’s Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom directly compete with Sullivan & Cromwell. The three firms, and many others, in the past have raised their salaries based on what other big shops do. Earle Yaffa, Skadden’s managing director, said that he expects Sullivan’s move to have little effect on his firm’s salary decisions. On the West Coast, John J. Clair, managing partner of Latham & Watkins, said that he was not aware of any changes in salary or bonuses for associates in his 283-attorney Los Angeles office. At the same time, global giant Baker & McKenzie said it did not detect an industry swing toward higher associate pay. “We don’t have anything to support a trend in increasing salaries or bonuses,” said firm spokeswoman Pamela Ulijasz. Despite the caution, Sullivan & Cromwell’s announcement could mark an end to a reining in of associate pay in recent years. During the dot-com binge of the late 1990s, annual starting pay at top firms hit $140,000. Firms entered the wage war to keep associates from defecting to Internet startups and investment banks. Retaining bright associates now is becoming particularly important for top-ranked firms as the economy improves, said Martha Fay Africa, founding partner at Major, Hagen & Africa, an attorney recruiter. “They’ll bump their salaries if they think it’s the competitive thing to do,” she said. And as to whether other firms will follow the lead of Sullivan and the Philadelphia firms? “Most law firms are just like lemmings,” Africa said.

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