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It looks like there’s a new No.1 in the associate salary race.  

New York intellectual property law firm Desmarais said Tuesday that it will increase its salaries for each associate class to an amount $20,000 higher than the new market rate set by Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The move puts starting pay at Desmarais at $210,000.

“We want to hire the best people available,” said founding partner John Desmarais, a former head of Kirkland & Ellis’ IP litigation practice.

“We compete with Cravath and Kirkland and the other big firms at recruiting,” Desmarais said. Compensation, he said, is “one of the things that differentiates us, [and] it allows us to make a very credible play for the top people coming out of the top law schools.” 

John Desmarais

The decision marks the second time that Desmarais, which was founded in 2010, has exceeded the top market rate for associate salaries. The firm has about 30 associates, working with just under a dozen partners.

After Cravath last set the high water mark for Big Law associate salaries in 2016, Desmarais’ boutique similarly announced it would exceed Cravath’s scale by $20,000 at each level.

Now that many large firms have adopted the new Cravath scale—itself a response to an early June decision by Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy to push starting salaries to $190,000Desmarais is intent on staying ahead.

Desmarais’ new salary scale, effective July 1, will be as follows:

  • Class of 2017 — $210,000
  • Class of 2016 — $220,000
  • Class of 2015 — $240,000
  • Class of 2014 — $275,000
  • Class of 2013 — $300,000
  • Class of 2012 — $325,000
  • Class of 2011 — $345,000
  • Class of 2010 — $360,000

The firm also will hand out midyear bonuses to its 29 associates in line with those announced by Simpson, Thacher & Barlett and adopted by Cravath. These summer bonuses will be paid out on June 29.

Desmarais said the salary increases are a part of an overall effort by the firm to demonstrate its commitment to associates’ well-being, including with generous benefits.

“We’re treating the associates like part of the project and trying to build a feeling around the firm that is conveying to associates that we actually care about them and care about their development,” Desmarais said.

Unlike other firms that may have to increase billing rates to offset associate salary increases, Desmarais doesn’t bill by the hour. Rather the litigation boutique negotiates flat monthly fees with its clients.

“We make money by handling matters efficiently with small lean teams, and its all that’s really necessary to have a successful practice,” said Desmarais. “We get rewarded financially by efficiency, whereas the big firms get rewarded by armies of young lawyers doing tasks.”

Desmarais’ announcement places it among a number of elite boutique law firms that have matched or exceeded the new associate salary scale.

Earlier this week, Texas-based litigation firm Susman Godfrey announced it would increase its associate salaries to $5,000 more than the Cravath scale, bringing its new base for first-year associates to $195,000.