Law firms including Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP cut year-end bonuses for first-year lawyers by as much as 71 percent, part of a bid to keep client costs down and ride out a recession that has forced structural changes in the industry.

Bonuses dropped for first-year associates at many top-tier New York firms while staying the same or increasing for more experienced associates. Bonus reductions, along with overall pay cuts, signal a diminished role for junior lawyers at the larger U.S. firms, said consultant Bruce MacEwen.