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Think $160K Is the Standard BigLaw Salary? Think Again, NALP Says

Posted Sep 20, 2012 7:24 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Those storied $160,000 paychecks for first-year BigLaw associates are no longer the norm.

Though $160,000 paychecks are still doled out by large firms, particularly in larger cities, they represent just 46 percent of first-year salaries in firms with more than 700 lawyers, according to recent research by NALP–The Association for Legal Career Professionals. That’s a decline from 54 percent in 2011, 58 percent in 2010, and 65 percent in 2009, according to a press release.

Median starting pay at firms of more than 700 lawyers is now $145,000, matching the 2007 median. At the other end of the scale, the median is $70,750 in firms of two to 25 lawyers.

The press release quotes NALP executive director James Leipold. “Among the largest firms, there has been a measurable backing away from $160,000 as a starting salary, though that level of compensation is still dominant in New York and a few other markets,” he said. Those other markets include Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Even though $160,000 starting pay is the norm at the largest firms in those four markets, its prevalence is eroding. And in firms of 251 to 700 lawyers in Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., some firms still pay $160,000, but most do not.

There is some good news in the salary figures. The overall median first-year salary at firms of all sizes is now $125,000, up from $115,000 last year. The figures are based on responses from 570 law firms.

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