Lawyer Pay

Average Starting Pay for Law Grads Is on Downward Shift; Drop Is Largest for Law Firm Jobs

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Starting pay is down for 2010 law graduates, and the drop is greatest for law firm jobs.

Median starting pay dropped by nearly 13 percent for all jobs and by 20 percent for law firm positions, according to NALP, which calls itself the association for legal professionals.

The national median for 2010 law grads working full time and reporting a salary was $63,000, compared to $72,000 for the class of 2009, NALP says in a press release. The national median salary at law firms was $104,000, compared to $130,000 the previous year.

The drop in law firm pay largely reflects a shift in jobs to smaller firms, rather than a drop in salaries paid by individual employers. Fifty-three percent of the class of 2010 who obtained law firm jobs went to firms of 50 or fewer attorneys, compared to 46 percent the previous year. Only 26 percent went to firms of more than 250 lawyers, compared to 33 percent the previous year.

The drop in overall pay is also spurred by the erosion of jobs in private practice. About 51 percent of the graduates from the class of 2010 who found jobs were employed by private law firms, compared to about 56 percent of the class of 2009.

NALP executive director James Leipold says in the press release that aggregate starting salaries fell because more 2010 law grads found jobs with the smallest law firms. “This downward shift in starting salaries is not, for the most part, because individual legal employers were paying new graduates less than they paid them in the past,” Leipold said.

The press release cautions that few salaries are actually at the national median of $63,000 or the national average of $84,111. Many salaries cluster at the $40,000 to $65,000 range at the lower end and at the $145,000 to $160,000 range at the high end. The mean and median also skew high because NALP collects more salary information from large than small law firms. When the statistics are adjusted to place greater weight on small firm salaries, national average pay is $77,333 for all full-time jobs.

Prior coverage: “A Record Low for 2010 Law Grads: Only 68% Have Jobs Requiring Bar Passage”

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