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U.K.’s magic circle still lags behind its U.S. rivals

U.K. pre-bonus associate salaries are averaging £60,000 ($71,982), lagging behind the average salaries offered by U.S. rivals.

Although London-based global law firm Clifford Chance claims its “best performers can expect a total reward well in excess of their peers at major competitors in London,” junior associates receive just £51,000 ($61,184.7) and bonuses reaching a maximum of £10,000 ($11,997).

Since last year, New York-based Shearman & Sterling has increased their bonuses by 25%. Associates at the firm’s London office can receive as much as £40,000 ($47,980) in merit-based bonuses.

Meanwhile, New York-based Sullivan & Cromwell and Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy award their entry-level associates with £17,000 ($20,393.2) in bonuses. Their senior associates receive up to £37,000 ($44,385.2).

“We made a decision in late November to raise bonuses roughly in line with last year,” says Sullivan partner Ben Stapleton. “But after that several other firms went beyond that by about $5,000. We wanted to stay competitive.”

San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster reportedly awards £17,000 ($20,393.2) to £32,000 ($38,371.2) in merit-based bonuses for associates in its London office. DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary also offers discretionary bonuses to London associates. Partner Jeffrey Liss claims “overall bonuses awarded were 30% greater than last year and varied according to performance and productivity.”


Sullivan & Cromwell increase associate salaries to $145,000

Sullivan & Cromwell has increased first-year associate pre-bonus salaries to $145,000, thus beating out the recent salary hikes at major Los Angeles firms.

This puts pressure on other large firms to offer competitive pay raises. Experts are forecasting that Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and Davis Polk & Wardwell will soon follow suit. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, however, is already ahead of the rest, paying first-years $200,000.

Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell’s first-year associates received $125,000 per year plus $35,000 bonuses. “Total compensation this year could be more, less, or the same as that of last year,” said Benjamin Stapleton, partner and head of associates’ committee at Sullivan & Cromwell.


Patent lawyers in great demand

2006 is shaping up to be an important year for Intellectual Property attorneys. The legal job market is witnessing a surge of hiring activity in the IP field, particularly in patent prosecution. Market analysts say the outlook for IP litigation attorneys is not quite as rosy.

Attorneys working at major IP practices are averaging $135,000 per year. In-house patent attorneys are earning an average of $90,000 per year. There is a high demand for attorneys holding degrees in electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineering; biotechnology; pharmacology; or computer science.

Meanwhile, legal secretaries experienced in preparing patent applications are also in high demand and earning between $55,000 and $65,000 per year on average.


Salary wars show no sign of stopping

Hogan & Hartson and Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky have raised first-year associates salaries from $125,000 to $135,000. The salary hike at Hogan will apply to attorneys in New York, Los Angeles and the DC Metro area. Senior associates will also receive a minimum annual raise of $10,000 per year. The gross income of second-years will now total $145,000, and the gross income of eighth-years will reach $225,000.

In most of their offices, Dickstein will pay $145,000 to second-year associates. Third-years in Washington and Los Angeles will receive $155,000, while those in New York will receive $165,000.

“We must and we will attract the best legal talent for our clients,” said Dickstein managing partner Michael Nannes.

In the past few weeks, The Daily Judged has also reported associate salary increases at other major firms, such as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; O’Melveny & Myers and Paul; Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; and Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner.


The breakdown of the partner track

It is that time of the year when partnership promotions are announced. Many hopeful senior associates, however, are feeling the sting of disappointment. An increasingly common complaint among these associates is that the road to partnership is ambiguously defined.

Some seek to transition to firms that offer better partnership prospects. This move can prove challenging, since opportunities at such firms are surprisingly narrow--even for highly qualified lawyers. Smaller law firms are often prone to hiring senior associates rather than junior associates, as younger attorneys are often without a portable book of business.

Despite being denied partnership, not all opt to make a lateral move to another firm. The combination of a large salary, little free time and the prestige of working at a big firm can prevent some associates from exploring better partnership options at smaller law firms.

The new trend is for large firms to withhold equity status. Harvard Business School’s research shows that within 13 years of practice, the number of lawyers who were denied partnership increased by 25% between 1998 and 2004.


More big California firms raising associate salaries

Two more major firms have announced raises for associates. Both Morrison & Foerster and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips are offering first-year associates $135,000 per year. Fourth-years will receive $170,000, while seventh-years will receive $210,000. MoFo will raise second-year pay to $145,000. In contrast, Manatt will increase second-year salaries to $140,000.

However, MoFo’s salary hike does not apply to its New York office. New York associates will instead earn guaranteed bonuses ranging from $30,000 to $60,000.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati has also announced bonuses. First-years will receive $20,000; fourth-years will receive $25,000; and seventh-years will receive up to $45,000 in bonuses. “We’re excited about the year we had,” said firm CEO John Roos. “Our associates are the lifeblood of the organization, and we are happy to share this size bonus pool.”


Texas firms unveil new associate bonuses

Partners at Dallas-based Haynes and Boone revealed that associates might receive bigger bonuses in 2006.

The announcement comes on the heels of other large Texas firms introducing lucrative merit-based bonuses for associates. Haynes and Boone claimed their associates could receive between $10,000 and $35,000 in bonuses by January 2007—a $5,000 increase from the current bonus structure.

In addition to offering merit-based bonuses, the firm also plans on giving additional bonuses to all their associates—provided a good financial year.

Haynes and Boone partner Richard Fijolek said, “We’re looking at what firms like Baker Botts and Vinson & Elkins are doing and trying to ensure our associates are paid comparably.” International firm Vinson & Elkins awarded its associates with both guaranteed and merit-based bonuses in 2005. Baker Botts, a Texas-based firm, gave as much as $5,000 to $50,000 in bonuses to their associates last year.


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