Can You Share Some Insight Regarding the Pay Scale of Mid-size Firms?

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Robyn Ginsberg

I currently practice at a large DC law firm but am interested in potentially lateraling to a mid-sized firm. Do you have any insight regarding the pay-scale at mid-sized firms, what the typical billable hours look like and any other pros/cons compared to big law firms?


There are a number of benefits to lateraling to a mid-sized firm, but keep in mind that not all mid-sized firms are alike. Mid-sized firms vary in terms of their practice area specialties, client base and service capabilities, all of which impact the firm's salary, billable hours and other pros and cons.

That being said, many mid-sized firms offer lower starting salaries than large firms. This is for a number of reasons. First, mid-sized firms generally tend to bill clients at lower rates than larger firms. This is because the client base at mid-sized firms are largely comprised of emerging and middle-market clients and other clients seeking friendlier rates than what is typically offered at big law firms. Second, mid-sized firms are often more lifestyle friendly. This generally means a lower billable hours' requirement, which in turn means lower salaries.

Although base salaries will often be lower at mid-sized firms, there are numerous other factors that should be weighed when considering an overall financial package. For example, mid-sized firms are often more willing to give associates origination credit for matters brought into the firm. Many also have profit-sharing, bonuses, good benefits and faster tracks to partnership. Relatedly, while it is often true that mid-sized firms pay lower salaries than large law firms, there are exceptions. For example, boutique "off-shoots" of elite big law firms will often pay at, or even above, market salaries in order to attract top-level talent from the top big law firms. Keep in mind that such firms also generally require attorneys to bill at or above "big law" hours.

Finally, when considering a possible move to a mid-sized firm, it's important to consider factors other than salary and billable hours. Attorneys generally get substantially more "hands on" experience at mid-sized firms, where there is often leaner staffing and fewer attorneys competing for work. For litigators, this usually means a chance to take depositions, argue motions and even regularly participate in trials and settlement negotiations. For corporate attorneys, there should be more opportunities to interface with clients and act as lead associate on deals. Additionally, mid-sized firms will frequently offer strong business development support and can provide attorneys with realistic progression prospects. In short, when considering a lateral move to a middle-market firm, don't forget to also consider your long-term career objectives in addition to your financial needs and lifestyle goals.

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