(Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)

Holland & Knight has bumped up starting salaries for associates in its California offices to $190,000.

The firm did not announce the increase, which kicked in on Oct. 1, but confirmed the raise on Wednesday. First-year associates in the firm’s Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Mid-Atlantic, and New York offices got their pay bumped to $190,000. Salary levels for more senior associates were also increased in all markets.

“Associate salaries at many law firms have increased over the last few months,” Holland & Knight Managing Partner Steven Sonberg said in an email. “In response to these changes, Holland & Knight recently adjusted its compensation structure to ensure that it remains competitive and properly rewards its associates for their contribution.”

The raise at Holland & Knight puts the firm’s associate salaries on par with other AmLaw100 firms. In June, New York-based Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy announced associate salaries of $190,000. With the bar set, pay raise announcements started rolling in.

Joe Ankus of Ankus Consulting says firms regularly engage in salary brinkmanship to help with retention. Higher pay, in theory, makes a firm more attractive to better talent. But Ankus doesn’t buy it.

“It became this surreal Kafkaesque bidding war for these 20-something associates that just graduated and have no experience,” said Ankus. “The fallacy about the bidding war is that there’s still a tremendous amount of turnover.”

It’s not uncommon, he said, to see attorneys with six years of experience with three different firms on their resume. Furthermore, the raises cut into a firm’s bottom line, which means potential increases in fees for legal services.

The biggest caveat, said Ankus, is the student loan debt crisis. Students in the United State owe a combined $1.5 trillion to lenders. When faced with looming debt, the calculus changes for newly-minted attorneys.

“These kids have $300,000 worth of student loan debt and that’s a problem,” Ankus said.

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