It’s official — Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges is the first California firm to respond to the latest salary hikes, raising base associate pay to $160,000.
The raises will match the new New York scale for "all years up to and including the year they would come up for partner," William Urquhart said.
“The raises will affect lawyers in both our California and New York office,” Urquhart confirmed to CalLaw.com on Wednesday morning.
The move follows a week of bumps from New York-based firms that started with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and quickly expanded to include many New York-based firms. (Dewey Ballantine and Fried Frank matched the hike just today, according to Above the Law.)
“They want to prevent lateral movement that is at such a high pitch at this time of year,” said Gloria Noh Cannon, a Los Angeles-based recruiter with BCG Attorney Search.
Now, the question is whether Quinn will stand alone.
“This is definitely going to make firms sit up and take notice,” Cannon said. “I am sure they’re thinking of it because they want to keep talent and make a statement that they’re doing well.”
Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr. said that how firms respond will determine their standing in an ever more segmented legal marketplace. “This is a significant market development,” said Baxter. “The market has really moved, at least in New York.”
Saying that his firm aims “unequivocally at the high end,” Baxter assured Legal Pad that an announcement would be coming shortly and that the salary bump would be taken into consideration.
“Independently of the development, we were examining how to best compensate our associates,” said Baxter. “We will take the development into account before our final decision.”
One associate speculated that other California firms will eventually raise salaries, though they might not all go to the 160 scale.
“Associates all around are absolutely fed up with California-based firms trailing so far behind the New York market, especially since for so long we became accustomed to a parity between New York and L.A. salaries,” said a Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman associate in California. “If all the N.Y. firms jump up to $160,000, California-based firms will have to keep up to some degree.”
If California firms don’t increase the salaries, they may be hurting their long-term recruiting potential, that associate predicted.
“Law students who at one time would have happily considered L.A. or S.F. firms over New York firms because, salaries being equal, quality of life was better in California are definitely thinking differently now,” the associate said. “And within California, firms like Simpson Thatcher and Skadden are going to steal the cream of the crop from the traditional Big Three.”
— Kellie Schmitt and Zusha Elinson