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Starting salaries level off

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After sharp increases for the past few years, salaries for new law school graduates joining firms have hit a plateau.

Starting salaries level off



Statistics from the National Association for Law Placement, show that median first-year associate salaries for mid- to large-size firms have remained mostly stable for the last three years, from April 2000 to April 2003.

That is in sharp contrast to the almost 30 percent increase in median entry-level pay between April1999 and April 2000.

First-year associates at firms of 251 or more attorneys today earn, on average, about $110,000.

Of course, salary figures vary by firm size and location. At small firms, median entry-level pay is $59,500, and at very large firms (more than 500 attorneys), the median jumps to about $113,000.

In major cities like Los Angeles and New York, the prevailing salary for first-year associates is $125,000, a number that has remained relatively unchanged over the last three years.

Not surprisingly, the economy has a lot to do with salaries leveling off. NALP officials reported that the last time a plateau like this was seen was in the recessionary mid-1990s.

Virginia Greer, director of career services at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Ga., said she is not surprised that salaries have leveled off especially at large firms, because many of them are suffering a backlash as their clients' business suffers.

"At the big firms, clients today are scrutinizing their bills more carefully and not initiating new projects as much," she said. "Some of the big firms are not hiring, not increasing salaries and even letting people go in some cases."

One practice area where salaries continue to be robust, however, is Intellectual Property. Entry-level IP attorneys command as much as $30,000 more than other practice areas, and that gap widens as associates rise through the ranks.

Donald Chisum, a professor and IP specialist at Santa Clara University School of Law in Santa Clara, Calif., said that is mainly because of continuing demand for patent attorneys. "Their salaries are always going to be higher because of their advanced degrees and their usefulness to the firms," he said.
Chart - 2003 Median Base Salaries
Firm size: 2-25 lawyers
1st year associate: $59,000
2nd year associate: $64,500
3rd year associate: $67,250
1st year summer: $865/week
2nd year summer: $924/week
3rd year summer: $93/week
Firm size: 26-50 lawyers
1st year associate: $71,000
2nd year associate: $75,000
3rd year associate: $81,000
1st year summer: $1,100/week
2nd year summer: $1,250/week
3rd year summer: $1,200/week
Firm size: 51-100 lawyers
1st year associate: $80,000
2nd year associate: $82,800
3rd year associate: 85,700
1st year summer: $1,300/week
2nd year summer: $1,500 /week
3rd year summer: $1,538/week
Firm size: 101-250 lawyers
1st year associate: $85,000
2nd year associate: $87,000
3rd year associate: $92,838
1st year summer: $1,500 /week
2nd year summer: $1,500/week
3rd year summer: $1,500/week
Firm size: 251-500 lawyers
1st year associate: $102,000
2nd year associate: $105,000
3rd year associate: $110,000
1st year summer: $1,925/week
2nd year summer: $2,000/week
3rd year summer: $2,050/week
Firm size: 501 or more
1st year associate: $113,000
2nd year associate: $120,000
3rd year associate: $128,417
1st year summer: $2,250/week
2nd year summer: $2,275/week
3rd year summer: $2,375/week
Source: NALP 2003 Associate Salary Survey

This story appeared in the October, 2003 edition of The National Jurist, www.nationaljurist.com

See the following articles for more information:

Santa Clara University

    

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