Associates Happiest With Wachtell Pay, Which is on the Hefty Side

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Midlevel associates are most satisfied with their compensation at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which paid huge bonuses last winter ranging from $175,000 to $215,000. That compares to median New York bonuses of $55,000 to $80,000.

Midlevel associates at the firm, asked to rate their satisfaction with compensation on a 1-to-5 scale, gave the law firm a score of 4.92, according to chart published by Am Law Daily. In addition to bonuses, paychecks for associates there ranged from $175,000 for third-years to $215,000 to fifth-years.

Overall, the average satisfaction with compensation was 4.04 one a 1-to-5 scale, the Am Law Daily reports. The American Lawyer survey of more than 7,200 midlevel associates found that large New York law firms froze pay for midlevel associates this year, while big firms in several other cities matched New York paychecks by giving their midlevels raises of about 10 percent.

After Wachtell, midlevel associates were most satisfied with their compensation at Los Angeles-based Irell & Manella, New York City-based McKee Nelson, Boston-based Nutter McClennen & Fish, and Boston-based Ropes & Gray. Most paid salaries ranging from $185,000 to $230,000, the median in New York. (Nutter, which is not one of the top 200 law firms, was not listed on the American Lawyer pay chart.)

Scoring lowest for compensation satisfaction was Columbus, Ohio-based Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, with a score of 2.83. Its overall satisfaction rating was also the second-worst in the survey, right behind Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, which has laid off 131 lawyers this year.

The survey found that associate satisfaction with pay increased by only 1 percent, even as firms with differing profit margins have rushed to match each other in associate pay, the American Lawyer reports in a separate story.

The article says interviewing students have little information to distinguish law firms and rely on compensation as a guide. As associates became dissatisfied with the grind of law firm life, “bonuses or small differences in salary take on an outsize psychological importance,” the story says.

Another frustration is the diminished prospect for making partner. “We’re like pro athletes,” a Jenner & Block midlevel associate told American Lawyer. “Only a few will make equity partner, and [most] will have a limited amount of time at a big firm.”

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