Tyler Roberts 2017-11-08 05:35:27
Big firm salaries jumped to $180k, but no trickle down yet. It’s not every day somebody gets a $20,000-a-year raise, no matter how gifted they are at their job or how well they play office politics. However, many first-year bif law firm associates got that sweet boost last year. The powerhouse New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore was first to make the leap, increasing first-year associate pay from $160,000 to $180,000. The salary increase was a long time coming and made big news, partly because the figure was so high and partly because it had been so long since the prior increase. But while law students cheered, few will earn $180,000 upon graduation. That pay hike hasn’t exactly trickled down. The national median salary for 2016 remained flat at $135,000. At law firms with fewer than 50 lawyers, the median salary for first-year associates was just $90,000, half of what their Big Law counterparts in major markets earn. Even at firms with more than 700 lawyers, the median starting salary fell short of Cravath’s figure, coming in at $155,000. “It’s not what I expected to see,” said James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), which tracks law firm salaries. “After all the publicity surrounding the move to $180,000, I fully expected to see the national median starting salary for law firms move upward. But what the data reveal is that for the most part, only the largest firms in the largest legal markets made the move.” It took several years for a 2007 pay hike to become the industry standard, and some believe it could be a few years for the influence of Cravath’s new salary to take hold. Still, the legal market has changed significantly in the past decade. The largest firms are not as similar to one another as they used to be. Data from a 2017 salary report by Robert Half Legal, which also surveys law firms, showed slight increases for first-year associate salaries in both small and large law firms. In small firms, those with one to 10 lawyers, first-year salaries ranged from $56,500 to $82,000, an increase of 2.8 percent from 2016. Midsize law firms with 35 to 75 lawyers saw a 3.5 percent increase, with salaries reaching up to $134,250. First-year associates at large firms with more than 75 lawyers saw the biggest jump in salaries. In 2017, associates at large firms were paid between $126,500 and $168,250, a 6.2 percent increase from the previous year. Salaries for graduates entering business, public interest, judicial and government employment are distinct from those working in law firms, and thus less likely to be affected by the new $180,000 starting salary scale. This is especially true for graduates entering the public sector and judicial clerkships, where starting salaries rarely, if ever, exceed six figures. “Jobs in government and jobs as judicial clerks are likely to be steady, as they have been for many years, despite economic booms and busts,” Leipold said. According to 2015 NALP data, public interest employers, such as public defenders and nonprofits, paid a median salary of $47,000, with salaries ranging from $31,000 to $70,000. Judicial clerk salaries were low and tight in range. More than 40 percent of reported salaries fell between $45,000 and $55,000. Salaries varied, however, depending on the type of court. Clerks in federal courts reported the highest salaries, with 60 percent earning $60,000 or more. At the state level, clerks reported salaries between $45,000 and $55,000. On the local level, 50 percent of clerks reported salaries of less than $45,000. Government salaries in the 25th and 75th percentiles were $45,000 and $63,538, respectively. Salaries tend to be the highest for graduates working for the federal government. Local government employees reported higher salaries than those working for state governments. Jobs in the business sector, both J.D.- advantage and bar-passage-required, provide slightly higher starting salaries. The most common reported salaries for law graduates employed in business were between $60,000 to $70,000, according to NALP data. J.D.-advantage jobs, or those not requiring a law license, reported salaries of $55,000 and $85,000 for the 25th and 75th percentiles. For jobs requiring bar passage, salaries were slightly higher at $58,240 and $90,000 for the 25th and 75th percentiles.
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