Entry-level law salaries rise at largest firms

Salaries at the largest law firms are rising, according to The National Association for Law Placement’s (NALP) latest salary survey. But while many firms have announced $180,000 as a starting salary, the median is unchanged since 2015. 

Some law firms in New York, Los Angeles/Orange County area, and Washington, DC/Northern Virginia region are paying the highest salaries — $180,000 for first-year associates. But not enough firms reported a $180,000 salary to push the median up to that level.

“It’s not what I expected to see,” said James Leipold, NALP’s executive director. “After all of the publicity surrounding the move to $180,000, I fully expected to see the national median starting salary for law firms move upwards, but what the data reveal is that for the most part only the largest firms in the largest legal markets made that move, and while many offices are paying $180,000 to start, many are not. The result is upward movement in some law firm size bands while the national median has remained unchanged.”

The median salary at firms with 701 or more lawyers was $155,000, compared with $145,000 in 2015. Salaries rose even higher for firms with 501-700 lawyers. Those salaries rose from $125,000 in 2015 to $160,000.

Despite the increases at the largest firms, the overall median has remained the same as in 2015 at $135,000, when this survey was last administered.

In 2007 when law firms began the movement to a starting salary of $160,000, it took several years to become the prevailing salary at the largest firms.

NALP also reported that region and geography play an important role in salary differentials. This year’s survey contains analyses for 30 individual cities as well as additional states and regions not encompassed by those cities. These analyses reveal a wide range of law firm compensation. For example, the overall median salary for first-year associates in firms of more than 251 lawyers was $135,000 but ranged from $90,000 in firms of 50 or fewer attorneys to between $150,000 and $160,000 in firms of more than 250 attorneys.