The State Of Legal Salaries


The State Of Salaries For New U.S. Law School Graduates


Another week, another legal industry report with bummer statistics, right? Maybe not this week. According to data reported by law firms to The National Association for Law Placement (NALP), the average salary for a first-year associate at law firms nation-wide is $135,000. That’s up from last year when the number was $125,000 (but only up $5,000 since 2009).


A total of 556 law offices reported to the 2015 survey. NALP says in the report that the increase from last year is most likely due to an increase in large firms reporting and decrease in small firms reporting this year. That is probably an accurate analysis since 5 percent of the firms reporting had 50 or fewer employees and 52 percent reporting had 500 or more lawyers.

Overall, the data shows relatively minimal increases from 2009 but does reflect higher salary averages compared to last year. According to James Liepold, NALP’s executive director, numbers still don’t reach that 2009 legal industry boom.

“As was the case last year, the associate salary picture remains mostly unchanged. 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. At large law firms, starting salaries of $145,000 and $135,000, and even $110,000 are common in some markets, though $160,000 is still the dominant or modal salary in large markets,” Liepold said in a release.

Liepold added a measured yet upbeat assessment for the future. “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. I would expect that sort of slow bubble upwards to continue in some markets that are currently below $160,000, but unlike salary patterns prior to the recession, we are not likely to see firms move monolithically on salaries, and I would expect to continue to see more large law firm salary diversity than we typically saw before the recession.”


Additionally, $160,000 salaries at large firms are more common this year than they were last year. In 2014, 27 percent of law firms reported giving salaries of $160,000. This year the number grew to 39 percent. However, the number was about two-thirds of what it was in 2009. Still, in the largest firms (251+ employees) in the largest markets, $160,000 is the most commonly reported salary.

whoaIf there is any disconcerting news, it comes from smaller firms. Specifically, small law firms outside of large urban markets. Firms with 51 to 100 employees had a median salary of $111,250 for first-year associates. In metropolitan areas with a population of less than 1.5 million, the median salary was $110,000.

Interestingly, geography also plays a major role in the median salaries of law firms. For the largest law firms, the median salary was $150,000 in the Northeast, $145,000 in the West, $135,000 in the South and $110,000 in the Midwest.

Like all data or statistics, these findings can be portrayed in many lights. The optimists will believe this is an uptick in the legal industry and the pessimists will claim in it the continuation of a market that’s flat at best.

Source: Quartz