Salary Hikes Travel to Atlanta

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<<"We pay our associates the same in every part of the country; and in our view, we need to be at the top of the market, wherever that market is," Peter Devlin, President of Fish & Richardson, said in an interview with The Daily Report.

The first firm in Atlanta to jump on the salary war bandwagon, Fish & Richardson also raised its seventh-year salaries from $215,000 to $265,000. So far, other Atlanta firms are holding steady at the $115,000 salary that was made the norm in the last round of salary hikes in 2005. Associates at other Atlanta firms are watching anxiously to see if Fish & Richardson's decision spurs any competition, and law firms are currently keeping their eyes on the situation and trying to decide what is best for them.

The most recent set of salary wars that have gotten the entire legal profession up and onto the edge of their seats began in New York a week ago when Simpson Thacker & Bartlett made the big announcement that it would be raising first-year salaries to $160,000. Other New York firms rushed to follow suit, and firms in Washington and California were next in line.

However, while many firms that have offices in more than one U.S. city have decided to match associate salaries in their New York offices, they have decided to keep the same salaries for first-year associates in all of their other offices. For example, while first-years in Morrison & Foerster's New York office will see an increase to $160,000 a year, first-years in the firm's California office will have to settle for the current $135,000 a year salary.

Since the tradition has always been for pay hikes to start on the west coast and travel east, the latest round of salary increases is a little outside of the norm. Raffaele Murdocca, Managing Director of BCG Attorney Search's Atlanta office, thinks the New York salary hikes are a result of the growth of investment banking and the need for attorneys in this field. Many investment banking firms are now hiring from the same pool of applicants that law firms are hiring from, and therefore, firms are getting more competitive with their salaries.

However, Murdocca also said that in order to raise salaries, firms usually have to raise billing rates.

"If they can't raise rates, then either associates will have to bill a lot more or the partners will see a hit on their compensation at the end of the year. The amount may vary depending on how much each partner brings in and how many associates they can keep busy," Murdocca said in an interview with The Daily Report.

Fish & Richardson.

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