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Law Firm Salaries


Law Firm Salaries
So I have been writing a series of blog entries in which I have been breaking down Logical Reasoning questions from the June 2009 LSAT. However, I am taking a bit of a break to share with you some interesting stats I just stumbled upon. You see, I was recently distracted by the one topic that seems to be able to distract anyone: the almighty dollar.

These days, it is easy to find various stories about the doom and gloom of the economy. Here is a great one if you want to read about everyone filing bankruptcy. Or how about a quick read from the WSJ that claims the recovery effort is not working? Well, at least we can now get some cash for our clunker, at least while there is still some funding in the tank for that.

And you don’t have to look very far to find stories about the cutbacks taking place at large law firms. Apparently that is old enough news that now places are simply debating new alternatives for what to do after life as a lawyer.

But even after reading all of these stories, I just felt like the doomsday news had not reached everyone in the legal world. I have plenty of friends who are thriving and still getting great jobs out of law school, or at least that is what they tell me.

And then I came upon the following article and thought I would share. The NALP recently released the numbers for its 2009 Associate Salary Survey. Now, the gist of this article is a comparison between the salaries for associates at different sized law firms, which I will get to in a second. However, there is some promising news for the legal profession as a whole.

These numbers are reported as of April 1, 2009, which was well after the start of our glorious recession. Now, granted, it might not be the easiest thing in the world to find a job at a law firm these days, but you are doing pretty well if you can get in the door. The median starting salary of the 550 law firms that reported data was $130,000. The median for fifth-year associates was $150,000 and eighth-year associates were pulling in a little over $170,000. That is big money. In these economic times, there are not too many professions that are still reporting such numbers.

The report also shows the difference in salary between small, medium, and large firms. That spawned the title for this post and I put together a little graph to show the variance in starting salary for first-year associates. Most people know that the big firms pay more, but it is interesting to see how much more. At small firms (2-25 lawyers), the average salary is $70,000. At the big guys (1000+ lawyers), the average is $160,000. That is a big discrepancy.


The other lessons that I believe can be taken from these numbers is that you don’t have to graduate from Harvard and get a job at Skadden to make good money. If you jump just one level up from the smallest firms and can find a job at a medium-sized firm (26-100 lawyers), you are probably walking into the door with a paycheck in the area of $100,000 per year. That might not buy you a summer home in the Hamptons right away, but you can vacation there in the meantime.