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As managing partners of US law firms tabulate 2004 numbers, it appears East Coast associates may have the jolliest year-end of al. Some Eastern payouts are twice as large as last year’s. By comparison, year-end perks at Midwest firms are merely holding steady. West Coast bonuses are still something of a question mark, though industry observers predict the final figures will reflect a slower economic rebound for that region’s firms — and their bonuses.

As managing partners across the country are in the process of tabulating bonuses for 2004, it appears that associates at East Coast firms may have the jolliest holidays of all.

Bonuses for new and senior associates this year at many East Coast firms are on the rise, while the year-end perks at some Midwest firms are meeting last year’s numbers. And though one major firm with a large San Francisco office said it will hand out bonuses of up to $50,000, other indications suggest that West Coast firms are on a slower economic rebound than their East Coast counterparts.

Some East Coast firms are raising their associate bonuses to as much as $60,000, compared with most year-end rewards in 2003 that topped out at $30,000. On the other end of the map, Morrison & Foerster is paying its associates “up to $50,000,” for 2004, said Chairman Keith Wetmore.

WEST VS. EAST

Despite the fanfare each year with which East Coast firms announce their associate bonus numbers, West Coast firms typically keep their figures much closer to the vest. But even without the public disclosures, some observers are saying that West Coast bonus numbers will be relatively lower this year than those on the East Coast.

“Based upon what we hear from our clients, firms on the East Coast and Midwest are doing quite well, but at firms on the West Coast, it’s a little bit spotty,” said Joel Henning, senior vice president and general counsel of Hildebrandt International, a law firm consultancy. He added that the West Coast has less “bonus” competition than New York firms that are closely watched by law students and potential laterals.

At New York’s Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, associates who have been with the firm since 1997 or longer are getting up to $60,000 in bonuses. For associates in the class of 2003, the firm is giving bonuses of $30,000, which will bring total compensation for those attorneys to $155,000. Associates who started in 2004 are receiving $10,000 each.

Fried Frank associate Jenigh Garrett, who joined the firm in 2003, said that “of course” some of the $30,000 bonus she will receive will go toward paying off her student loan debt, accumulated while she attended the University of Wisconsin Law School.

The firm told Garrett this month that she would get her bonus check at the end of the month. “I was pretty excited,” she said. “We all feel good about the fact that the economy and the firm are doing well.”

Fried Frank’s numbers are in keeping with other East Coast firms that recently disclosed their bonus amounts. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett of New York is laying out $30,000 for its first-year associates and up to $60,000 for senior associates. In 2003, its bonuses ranged from $17,500 to $30,000. Cravath, Swaine & Moore, also based in New York, is boosting its bonuses this year for senior associates to $50,000, a $20,000 increase from last year for those attorneys. Bonuses for new associates start at $30,000 this year, compared with $17,500 last year.

At Sullivan & Cromwell of New York, associates are receiving bonuses ranging from $20,000 to $30,000, on top of interim bonuses in October that were between $10,000 and $20,000.

Some firms’ bonuses in the Midwest market, though still hefty, will not top last year’s prizes. At Bryan Cave, for example, the biggest bonus that a member of the 2003 class will receive is $20,000, the same amount as last year. Senior associates are eligible to get a $40,000 bonus, also the same as last year. In addition, the firm offers discretionary bonuses to associates who merit special recognition.

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