Holland & Knight and Womble Bond Dickinson increase associate salaries

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(Reuters) - Holland & Knight confirmed Thursday that it is increasing salaries for first-year associates to $190,000, the prevailing market rate in New York, in all of its U.S. offices.

Womble Bond Dickinson, which has offices throughout the Southeast and across the United States, also said Thursday that it is increasing associate salaries, by 9% on average. Associates in some markets will see an even bigger jump.

They're the latest law firms to boost base pay as competition for junior talent stays fierce, and as the coronavirus pandemic prompts some associates to consider moves to offices outside major markets.

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Legal industry blog Above the Law reported earlier this year that law firms including DLA Piper and Atlanta-based Alston & Bird raised their starting U.S. associate salaries to $190,000 across all U.S. offices.

Representatives for those firms did not respond to requests for comment.

Beyond the base salary hikes, New York firms including Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Milbank and Davis Polk & Wardwell, which have paid $190,000 starting salaries since 2018, were among the first to announce a raft of special associate bonuses this spring.

The two-installment bonuses, since adopted by dozens of Big Law firms, go as high as $64,000. But to get the full amount associates usually have to stay on until at least the fall.

Since deal volume hit record highs early this year, law firm leaders have grappled with how to keep associates engaged after a high-stress year of remote work.

Some associates would prefer time off over cash to combat burnout, recruiters and associates have said. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe said in March that all of its timekeepers will get 40 hours of billable credit to take off and de-stress.

Other junior lawyers want to move closer to home, recruiters have said, even if it means leaving a job in New York, traditionally the top-paying city for associates. Firms including Goodwin Procter have started hiring associates in cities where they don't have offices, after a year of remote work showed lawyers can be productive from home.

Miami-based Holland & Knight's associate salary raises kick in July 1, the firm's managing partner Steven Sonberg said in an internal memo reviewed by Reuters on Thursday. The new salaries range from $190,000 for first-years up to $340,000 for eighth-years.

"Earlier this year, the firm began a review of its associate salary structure," Sonberg said in the memo. "We concluded that the firm and its associates would benefit from changes that would allow the firm to remain competitive with market conditions and would recognize that associates, regardless of office location, support clients across the firm."

(Note: This story was updated to clarify that Womble Bond Dickinson's U.S. footprint extends beyond the Southeast.)

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Caroline Spiezio covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firms and in-house counsel. She is based in New York. Reach her at Caroline.Spiezio@thomsonreuters.com.