First-year lawyers are looking to earn up to $125,000 to start among Delaware law firms – and other firms elsewhere are catching on.

Now that the lazy days of summer are over, attorneys are on the move. Law school students are busy securing top-paying jobs at local firms, recruiting directors are hunting for new associates and experienced practitioners are surveying their options.

In hopes of attracting the best and the brightest from the crop of law students who will graduate in 2005, numerous Delaware firms have announced that they will offer new grads $115,000, or even $125,000, per year to start.

And announcing new hires earlier this month, firm officials at Buchanan Ingersoll and McCarter & English said they are growing their Delaware offices and will continue adding lawyers to their folds.

Partner Mark Gundersen and associate John Taylor III have joined McCarter & English’s corporate department, while partner William Sullivan has brought his bankruptcy and commercial litigation experience to Buchanan Ingersoll.

To allow for expansion, Buchanan Ingersoll also recently signed a seven-year lease for space in downtown Wilmington’s Nemours Building, partner David Wilks said. Wilks, who heads the firm’s Delaware office, said that Buchanan Ingersoll will hire not only additional bankruptcy practitioners, but also general litigation, transactional and real estate attorneys to increase its Delaware presence.

Seven lawyers currently practice in Buchanan Ingersoll’s Delaware office, according to the firm’s Web site.

After a relatively slow summer, Delaware firms are concentrating on increasing their ranks during the remainder of 2004 and into 2005, Brenda Thompson of legal recruiting firm Thompson Search Consultants said.

Thompson told the Delaware Law Weekly that firms have been seeking not just seasoned lawyers, but also associates with one to three years of practice experience.

Judging from new entry-level salaries, it seems that some of Delaware’s heavy hitters should have no trouble attracting new talent.

Recently, several Philadelphia firms announced that they will also raise first-year salaries. Effective Jan. 1, Pepper Hamilton, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, Reed Smith and Duane Morris will offer first-year associates $115,000, firm leaders said.

John Reed, who heads Duane Morris’ Wilmington office, said that the increase will not apply in Delaware because that office already pays $115,000 to start. The increases at Pepper Hamilton, Reed Smith and Ballard Spahr will take effect in Wilmington as well as Philadelphia, firm officials said.

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