susman_steve_008.jpg Tom Callins

Houston’s Susman Godfrey, which jolted the market last year when it hiked starting associate salaries to $190,000, just crammed another lure on its hiring hook: a $25,000 signing bonus.

“We want the best candidates. We want to stand out to the best candidates. And we thought this would be a differentiator,” said Erica Harris, the hiring partner and chair of the employment committee at Susman, which also has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle.

“Sometimes to a young person starting out, this has more meaning than the long view,” Harris added.

In the short term, the sign-on bonus will likely distinguish the boutique litigation firm. Since the financial crisis nearly a decade ago, Susman may be the first firm to offer all new associates cash up front, according to Adam Weiss, a principal and recruiter for Lateral Lawyer Group in New York.

“This is the first I’m hearing about a sign-on bonus in a long time. This must reflect that there is a tight competition in the market for the best students coming out of law schools,” Weiss said.

He question: “Is this is a blip or does it augur a change?”

The fall class of new associates at Susman, a roster so far of 10, were eligible to each pocket that bonus as soon as they accepted the firm’s offer, although some may have to postpone taking it because they are clerking for a judge and, therefore, restricted, based on rules governing outside compensation.

As a rule, Susman hires mostly associates who clerk for federal judges. Prior to initiating the new sign-on bonuses this week, the firm had already offered signing bonuses to associates who clerked for federal judges—$80,000 if they clerk for one federal judge, $100,000 if they clerk for two federal judges, and a separate undisclosed figure if they clerk at the Supreme Court. The firm holds the bonuses for those clerks until they are able to accept them.

Asked if her firm evaluated rival firm’s hiring offers to associates before calculating the new signing bonus, Harris said: “We didn’t make the decision based on what other firms are doing.”

And the $25,000 figure? “There was no science to it. We felt that this amount was significant enough, it would be meaningful to someone trying to decide among offers,” Harris said.

The bonuses are effective immediately and all new associates this fall will receive them, even those who accepted Susman’s offer prior to the announcement of the new inducement, she said.

Current job seekers aren’t out of luck either.

“I have confirmed that hiring is not closed for this fall for any office. We are continuously receiving great resumes and are not going to ignore a fantastic candidate for any of our offices,” Harris said.

Copyright Texas Lawyer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.