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.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.