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After several years of fiscal restraint, Connecticut law firms, by and large, are finally loosening their purse strings when it comes to entry-level salaries. And though the upward salary movement is not quite on par with the base pay bumps at the height of the tech boom, it’s nothing to sneeze at, either, and represents a shift away from the buyer’s market that’s been solidly in place since the dot-com bubble burst, law firm recruiters say. In Hartford, $90,000 is now the top first-year annual base pay rate among large locally based firms. Day, Berry & Howard matched Robinson & Cole by raising its salaries for raw recruits to that mark, after holding ground at $85,000 since the early part of this decade. Shipman & Goodwin also will join DBH and R&C there, when its new pay schedule takes effect Jan. 1, according to hiring partner Stephen Gellman. New Haven-based Wiggin & Dana did its Hartford competitors $5,000 better; it raised its first-year pay rate in Hartford and New Haven to $95,000, said Kathleen Gilloran, its director of attorney hiring and training. In Stamford, each of those four firms are now tied at the $105,000 base pay mark — or, in Shipman’s case, will be come Jan. 1 — increasing their going rates for new J.D.s by between $7,000 and $10,000 from fall 2004 levels. In doing so, they usurped Stamford-based Cummings & Lockwood, which had been the city’s traditional pay leader, among large law firms. C&L, which has undergone a radical restructuring in recent years, currently pays first-years in its Stamford and Greenwich offices $100,000 in annual base wages, while newbie lawyers in its West Hartford office now earn $90,000. “We’re very proud of being competitive with all Connecticut firms,” co-hiring partner Steven Frenkel said. “We feel very comfortable at this time with the salary package.” Certain smaller niche firms in Connecticut boast even higher pay levels. Specializing in high-end corporate transactional and litigation work, Stamford-based Finn, Dixon & Herling offers salaries competitive with the New York market. Charles Downey III, its hiring partner, said that market dictated a first-year salary jump to $120,000, up from last year’s $111,000. Meanwhile, at the 42-lawyer, Bloomfield-based intellectual property boutique Cantor Colburn, first-year associate salaries will increase from $96,500 to $100,000, as of Jan.1, according to managing partner Michael Cantor. That same base salary also will be offered at the firm’s Troy, Mich., and Atlanta offices, Cantor said. Other large Connecticut-based firms also decided they needed to raise salaries to remain within reach of the pack leaders. Like the competition, Hartford-based Murtha Cullina opted to hike first-year pay by $5,000. Hiring partner Hugh Murray said newly minted lawyers there now earn $85,000 a year. In the battle for prized recruits, the pay boost “certainly bodes well” for the firm, Murray said. Pepe & Hazard also increased its first-year associate salaries after remaining stable the past few years at $82,000. “We bumped our rate up to $86,000,” professional recruitment and development manager Sue Metcalfe said. “We’ve made other upward adjustments across the board in response to the market conditions.” At Shipman, Gellman said the firm’s decision to increase first-year pay was driven by the need to remain competitive in the hiring market. And though it feels comfortable with where it is now, if the market changes, it will revisit the situation, he promised. This past summer, Shipman hosted five second-year law students in Hartford and made offers to all of them. So far, four have accepted, Gellman said. For the first time in three years, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy increased entry-level salaries, too. The five first-years who started this fall earn $80,000 in base pay, $5,000 more than the class of 2004 did, said hiring partner Donald R. Seifel Jr.

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