Lawyer Pay

Median Starting Pay for Associates Is No Longer in the Six Figures; Figure Drops 35% in Two Years


Updated: New law grads in private practice are no longer taking home median paychecks in the six figures.

The erosion in BigLaw jobs is depressing the salaries for all class of 2011 law graduates, according to new statistics from NALP–The Association for Legal Career Professionals.

Law grads from the class of 2011 are earning median pay of $60,000, a 5 percent drop from 2010 and a 17 percent drop since 2009. Average pay is $78,653, a 15 percent drop since 2009. The figures are for grads who found full-time employment in jobs lasting at least a year.

The drop in starting pay is even more pronounced when only private practice jobs are considered, according to a press release. Median pay for 2011 law grads in private practice is $85,000, an 18 percent drop from 2010, when the median was $104,000, and a 35 percent drop since 2009, when the median was $130,000. Average pay in private practice is $97,821, a 15 percent drop since 2009.

“This drop in starting salaries, while expected, is surprising in its scope,” NALP executive director James Leipold says in the press release. “Nearly all of the drop can be attributed to the continued erosion of private practice opportunities at the largest law firms.”

Starting pay of $160,000 is still the norm at large law firms, but the share of BigLaw jobs has dropped, putting downward pressure on the median, the press release says. In addition, some large law firms are hiring new grads in staff attorney positions at salaries less than $100,000.

Nearly 60 percent of 2011 law grads who obtained jobs in private practice were working in firms of 50 or fewer lawyers, compared to 53 percent of 2010 grads, and 46 percent of 2009 grads. (The figures don’t include grads in solo practice.) Meanwhile, only 21 percent had jobs in firms of more than 250 lawyers, compared to 33 percent two years ago. The private-firm employment figures include both part-time and full-time jobs, permanent and temporary jobs, and those that do not require bar passage.

Other class of 2011 findings:

• More law grads are going solo. Three percent of all jobs, and 6 percent of law firm jobs, were reported as solo practice. The figures were about half that in 2007 and 2008.

• The number of employed graduates working for a legal temp agency—about 2 percent—is at its highest level since NALP began tracking this kind of job in 2006. In 2009 and 2010, the percentage was about half that.

• Nearly a quarter of employed graduates are seeking a different job. In 2008, the figure was 15.9 percent.

Last month, NALP revealed that only about 65 percent of 2011 law grads were in jobs requiring bar passage, the lowest percentage ever measured by the organization. “Obviously these statistics paint a pretty dismal picture,” Leipold said in the press release. “In many ways the class of 2011 bore the worst brunt of the impact of the recession on the entry-level legal job market, particularly in the large firm market.”

Prior class of 2011 coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Only 65 Percent of 2011 Law Grads Have Jobs Requiring Bar Passage, a Record Low”

Updated at 10 a.m. to add that the statistics on law grads in large and small firms include those in part-time, temporary jobs.

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