Deluge of law firms join Davis Polk pay-raise rush amid battle for associates

  • New matches include at least five New York firms, three UK-founded firms
  • Many of the most senior associates at large firms will receive $396,500 salaries

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(Reuters) – A slew of law firms are dishing out cash to mid-level and senior associates to align with salary raises debuted by Wall Street firm Davis Polk & Wardwell on Tuesday.

Firms have repeatedly upped salaries and doled out bonuses over the past 18 months as the industry remains locked in a battle for coveted associates to handle a surge in deal work.

Those matching Davis Polk include fellow large New York-founded firms: Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Willkie Farr & Gallagher.

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Kirkland & Ellis, Sidley Austin, O’Melveny & Myers and Vinson & Elkins have also joined in with matching raises.

In separate internal memos, the large firms said they would pay their most senior attorneys, those in the associate class of 2014 or above, $396,500 in salary.

At least three large UK-founded firms are also getting in on the action. In separate internal memos, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters said salaries for their U.S. associates would match Davis Polk.

So is Selendy Gay Elsberg, a small New York-based litigation firm founded by a group of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partners.

“While other, larger firms continue to jostle for a competitive edge with one another, we remain confident in our continued financial success and commitment to compensating our associates at the very top of the market,” Selendy Gay Elsberg said in its memo.

Another small litigation firm, Los Angeles-based Hueston Hennigan, also said in an internal memo it will pay salaries at Davis Polk’s levels.

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, meanwhile, is following Debevoise & Plimpton by matching Davis Polk’s scale and adding a tier of $406,500 salaries for the associate class of 2013 and senior.

Mid-level and senior associates are valuable to law firms, and it’s that competition that is driving these salary increases, said Kristin Stark, a principal at law firm consultancy Fairfax Associates.

Mid-level and senior associates “tend to be more productive and also generate less client resistance from a billing perspective,” Stark said in an email.

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