The Recorder, April 29, 2011
By Amy Miller
SAN FRANCISCO — Not too long ago, the market for associates was so dismal, recruiters at Swan Legal Search worked four‐day weeks to cut expenses.
That's all changed in recent months, thanks in large part to the recent rebound of M&A and IPO activity in Silicon Valley, founder Delia Swan said. Now there's so much demand in Silicon Valley for midlevel associates, particularly in corporate departments, she's hired two new recruiters and is looking to hire more.
"It's been a long time coming," Swan said. "Firms have trimmed so much there's no room to take on excess work. They necessarily have to hire new people."
Swan isn't alone in noticing that associates are once again in demand. Cooley and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati are bumping associate salaries up, effective today, restoring pay lost in the recession.
Corporate is booming, but litigation, licensing and patent prosecution attorneys are in high demand, too.
"Even firms that maybe had smaller groups in the past are looking to grow," said Ryan Kerian, managing director in Major, Lindsey & Africa's San Francisco office. "The demand is just extraordinary right now."
Cooley has hired 16 associates in its Palo Alto office since January, hiring partner Sally Kay said. Some were first‐years, but many were lateral hires. And the office is looking to hire three more midlevel associates in the corporate, patent prosecution and IP litigation departments.
But Kay said she doesn't think Cooley cut too many associates during the recession. "We've always been very measured in our hiring to make sure we aren't hiring ahead of our needs too much," she said. "This is being driven by client demand."
Meanwhile, firms are increasingly competing with in‐house legal departments for talent, too, said Scott Dubin of The Dubin Group in San Francisco. Right now, he's doing a search for a Fortune 50 company that needs 10 licensing and patent litigation attorneys. Companies tend to hire more senior associates than firms do, he said. "But sometimes their needs do overlap," Dubin said.
So it's no surprise that Silicon Valley firms are also raising salaries — or restoring them to pre‐recession levels — to keep associates happy.
The base salary for a fourth‐year associate at Cooley, for example, is now back to $210,000 instead of $185,000. The same is true at Wilson Sonsini now, although the firm did not respond to requests for comment."In order to stay competitive with peer firms, now was the time to do it," Kay said.
Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian said it raised associate salaries in January, though it wouldn't provide specifics. Ivan Gaviria, hiring partner for Gunderson's Silicon Valley office, said the firm is considering another pay raise after the recent announcements by Wilson Sonsini and Cooley. "We have historically stayed consistent with what other West Coast Silicon Valley firms pay." In 2000, the firm actually set the market.
The bad news, recruiters said, is that it's still a tight market for new lawyers. "It's quite hard for the junior folks" without experience, said Claudia Trevisan, a recruiter at Garb Jaffe & Associates in Los Angeles. "It's like a catch‐22. For them, it's still a very competitive market."