We recently reported on Wilson Sonsini restoring associate base salaries to pre-recession levels. Wilson Sonsini associates in five major offices — New York, Palo Alto, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. — are now paid on what might be called the New York market scale or the $160K scale (a scale I’ve committed to memory: 160/170/185/210/230/265).
In our story, we quoted a WSGR associate who viewed the firm’s raise as a response to salary hikes by two Silicon Valley peer firms, Cooley and Gunderson Dettmer. At the time of our story, however, Cooley and Gunderson had not raised SV associate salaries to NYC market levels.
UPDATE: To be precise, Cooley had announced a raise at the time of the WSGR memo, but the raise had not yet taken effect. Gunderson did not announce until yesterday.
If you graduated from law school in the late 1990s, you may have warm and fuzzy feelings for Gunderson Dettmer, the high-powered Silicon Valley law firm that represents many startup and technology companies. As you may recall, back in 1999 the firm made waves by offering new associates a starting salary of $125,000 — significantly higher than the $100,000 that was standard at the time.
This pay raise then spread around the country, adopted by law firms nationwide as the new standard. Gunderson’s gutsy move generated goodwill from young associates around the country.
But these days Gunderson is getting some less favorable publicity….
To balance out word of the robust O’Melveny bonuses, here’s some bad news out of California. Earlier this week, Gunderson Dettmer (boy I miss “ad”venture capital) laid off a number of junior associates. As veterans of the heady dot-com days may recall, Gunderson put itself on the map back in 1999 by leading the charge to $125,000 starting salaries.
Gunderson did not respond to multiple requests for comment, made yesterday and today, so we don’t have an official number of new people looking for work. But two sources claim that the firm laid off half of its first-year class (five out of ten associates) on Monday, plus an additional but unknown number of more senior attorneys. These layoffs are, according to a tipster, “on top of performance-related attrition / dismissals throughout the fall.”
Some of those laid off this week were stub first-years, i.e., class of 2008 from law school. As Chris Rock might say, “here today, gone today.”
Fans of Sex and the City will recall the famous episode in which Carrie was dumped via post-it note. If law firm mergers are like relationships, here’s a tale that seems as classy as breaking up by post-it. [FN1]
The New York office of Gunderson Dettmer was all set to move, en masse, to Cooley Godward. The 30 or so Gunderson attorneys had new, Cooley-issued Blackberries and laptops, with new email accounts and software already set up. They were set to start this past Tuesday.
On the Friday before Labor Day, the main partner in Gunderson’s NYC office simply called to let the Cooley crew know the move was off. This was not taken well by Cooley, since this had been considered a done deal for some time. The Gunderson lead partner did not even bother to call the CEO of Cooley, but instead called a relatively junior partner to break the news.
“Cooley is really pissed,” according to our tipster, “but they are moving forward.” Just like a jilted lover, Cooley seems to take the view that doing well is the best revenge: “They happen to be about to open a new office in a strategic location in the U.S., with a big bang, and with double-digit numbers of lateral partners as part of the potential deal.”
There is a body of law that governs who keeps the engagement ring when a wedding is called off. Could it be applied by analogy to those Cooley-issued BlackBerries and laptops?
Gunderson did not respond to our requests for comment. We reached out to Cooley, which declined to comment through a spokesperson.
[FN1] We adore post-its, and we love those little colored flags even more; but they can’t be used for everything.
If you graduated from law school before or during the tech boom of the late 1990′s, you may recall how an elite boutique named Gunderson Dettmer led the charge on associate pay raises. As noted here:
In 1999, a Silicon Valley firm named Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, shook the legal community by offering new associates a starting salary of $125,000 with a guaranteed bonus of $20,000. This represented a 25 percent increase in the average base salary and even more for the total compensation package. Other firms in major cities around the country were forced to follow Gunderson’s lead and annual salaries increased by about 30 percent between 1999 and 2000. New associates reaped the benefits.
The firm is considerably bigger today. And it didn’t lead this latest round of pay raises; Orrick deserves credit for that.
But Gunderson Dettmer is definitely keeping up. Moreover, as a source at the firm notes, “Thankfully it appears that we didn’t take the underhanded bonus-cutting route that Wilson Sonsini and Heller Ehrman did.”
Check out the memo, after the jump.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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