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Median Starting Pay for Law Firm Associates Peaks at $130K

Posted Aug 3, 2009 8:59 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Associates have another reason to be depressed: A survey that found their median starting pay is $130,000 likely represents the high-water mark for salaries of newly minted lawyers in private practice.

Salary information for the survey by NALP, an association for legal career professionals, was collected as of April 1, before large law firms paying the prevailing beginning salary of $160,000 began to cut pay. “This year’s report reflects what is likely to be the apogee of large firm salaries for the foreseeable future,” according to a NALP press release.

Among the law firms that have cut associate pay, at least temporarily, are Holland & Knight; Akerman Senterfitt; Ruden McClosky; Greenberg Traurig; Alston & Bird; Troutman Sanders; Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin; Allen Matkins; Blank Rome; Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis; Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney; DLA Piper; Dorsey & Whitney; Drinker Biddle; Howrey; Kaye Scholer; Kilpatrick Stockton; Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; Snell & Wilmer; and Venable.

While the median starting pay was $130,000 overall, it ranged from $70,000 in firms of 2 to 25 lawyers to $135,000 in firms of 501 to 1,000 lawyers, and $160,000 in firms of more than 1,000 lawyers, according to the survey.

The pay climbed for each associate year. The median for eighth-year associates ranged from $111,625 in small firms to $258,000 in the largest firms, with an overall median of $171,275.

NALP figures from 2008 found that about 56 percent of that year’s graduates obtained their first job in a law firm. Almost 27 percent reported public interest employment, where median salaries are lower, according to a prior press release. Overall, about 75 percent obtained a job for which bar passage is required.

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