Lawyer Pay

NALP sees 'upward movement' in starting pay for associates; median increases $10K

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Updated and corrected: The year 2009 remains the high-water mark for starting associate salaries in BigLaw, but there is a bright spot for new lawyers in salary statistics released on Thursday by the National Association for Law Placement.

The national median first-year associate salary at law firms of all sizes was $135,000 at the beginning of 2015, compared with $125,000 in 2014. At the largest law firms of more than 700 lawyers, the median was $145,000 at the beginning of 2015, compared with $135,000 as of April 1 of last year. A press release has the findings.

The boost in the national median at firms of all sizes reflects more $160,000 salaries at large firms, and relatively fewer survey responses from smaller firms, according to the press release. Starting pay of $160,000 accounted for 39 percent of the starting salaries reported 700-plus lawyer firms in 2015, up from 27 percent in the 2014 salary survey. That is still below the high in 2009, when nearly two-thirds of first-year salaries were reported at $160,000 in BigLaw.

NALP notes that the largest law firms are changing in character. The elite law firms are still among the largest firms, while other firms have joined the BigLaw ranks through mergers and acquisitions. Many of the new BigLaw firms have offices in smaller regions, where starting associate pay is lower. The increase in regional offices puts a damper on the prevalence of $160,000 starting salaries at the largest firms.

NALP Executive Director James Leipold summarizes the findings in a press release. “The simple story is that $160,000 as a starting salary at large law firms is less prevalent than it was immediately prior to the recession,” Leipold said. “The year 2009 remains the high-water mark for entry-level associate salaries, though we are starting to see some upward movement. $160,000 remains the top of the market, but we are seeing some secondary markets that were at $145,000, for instance, move slowly toward $160,000.”

The association survey gathered information from 556 law offices. About 5 percent of the responding firms had 50 or fewer lawyers, while 52 percent were firms of more than 500 lawyers.

Edited on April 17 to clarify fourth paragraph and to make clear that the year 2009 was the high-water mark for $160,000 salaries in BigLaw.

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