In another sign that L.A.'s largest law firms are surpassing pre-tech bubble compensation levels, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP plans to raise its annual salaries for first-year associates by $10,000, to $135,000, according to a source within the firm.

First-year associate pay is carefully watched because it helps firms in recruiting and marketing. Senior associates, whose pay levels are monitored less closely, would receive only $5,000 increases.

Gibson's decision follows earlier announcements by Irell & Manella LLP and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP to raise their first-year associate salaries to the same levels. However, Gibson's pay hikes are the first to occur among the city's largest law firms.

"All associate salaries have been flat for a long time, so it's overdue," said Peter Zeughauser, a legal consultant at the Zeughauser Group. "Once a firm like Gibson Dunn jumps into the fray, with Irell already there and Quinn Emanuel, everybody has to do it."

He said he wouldn't be surprised if other major firms, such as Latham & Watkins LLP and O'Melveny & Myers LLP, would follow suit within weeks of Gibson's announcement.

Gibson's managing partner and chairman, Ken Doran, did not return calls.

The American Dental Association is preparing to go to trial in a defamation case against a Van Nuys lawyer who has sued the trade organization for allegedly exposing patients to high levels of mercury in fillings made of amalgam, which is an alloy of mercury and silver.

Shawn Khorrami, who has his own law office, had sued the ADA and other dental groups for allegedly endangering the public by encouraging its members to use mercury fillings. Statements made by Khorrami on his Web site and in press releases are false and defamatory, according to the ADA, which filed a federal lawsuit against the attorney in 2002.

Court documents filed by the ADA maintain that Khorrami falsely said the association had made efforts "to conceal the dangers associated with amalgam for the financial benefit of itself and those of organized dentistry" and had "exercised undue and unfair pressure on dentists not to warn their patients of the dangers of mercury." In addition, the suit said, Khorrami concluded that "amalgam fillings represent nothing more than a con on the U.S. population, orchestrated by the American Dental Association and its web of constituent associations."

Both parties are expected to meet for mandatory settlement discussions later this month. A trial, originally scheduled this month, was recently re-scheduled for April.

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